Senate Education Committee Approves School Turnaround Bill

A Senate committee passed the newly-named 'First Priority Act' Monday.
A Senate committee passed the newly-named 'First Priority Act' Monday.
Credit Ken Lund /

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Gov. Nathan Deal’s new plan to turn around struggling schools took another step forward in the Legislature Monday.

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The legislation, now called the First Priority Act, has gone through several iterations. Even so, one piece of the bill hasn’t changed. It creates a Chief Turnaround Officer, who would report to the state board of education. Various groups — from teachers’ organizations to conservative think tanks — have asked that the position to report to the state superintendent instead.

Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman said he’s still hoping lawmakers change their minds.

“The state school superintendent is elected by the people,” Chapman said. “And he has no one else in that whole department who doesn’t report to him.”

The governor appoints the members of the state board of education.

Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, the bill’s sponsor, said who the CTO reports to is not likely to change.

“The policy is with the state board,” Tanner said. “All the policy decisions, the rules, the regulations all come from the state board.”

Tanner pointed out that every school district has a flexibility contract with the state board of education. He said by reporting to the state board, it would be easier for the CTO to work within the terms of those contracts.

The newest version of the bill does include some minor changes. Lawmakers tweaked funding language and restored a provision that bans for-profit charter operators from taking over schools.

Carolyn Wood handles advocacy and legislative matters for Public Education Matters Georgia. She still has a few concerns about the bill, like funding, which would be provided by grants and possibly tax credits. But, she said, there are some good signs.

“Folks here at the Capitol are listening to people across the state and what they had to say,” Wood said. “So, that’s incredibly encouraging to me. And I’m hopeful that with proper funding we really can reach students who are in need.”

The Senate Education committee passed the bill 5-2. It will soon head to the full Senate for a vote.

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