The Georgia Department of Education said it has four main legislative priorities for the 2020 session. They are: Responsible and Aligned Accountability, Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline, Expanding Opportunities for Students, and Funding Public Education. The department said many of the priorities were issues raised by educators across the state.
WABE spoke with state schools superintendent Richard Woods about each of the four priorities. Woods referred to the state’s current accountability system, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). The system takes a number of factors into account, including test scores, graduation rates, and school attendance. Then, it gives schools and districts a numerical score. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) then converts the scores into an A-F letter grade.
Woods said he wants to make sure the system is fair, and that it’s not used as “a hammer and a boot,” but to help schools improve their performance.
New teachers in Georgia tend to leave at a high rate. State data show 44% of new teachers leave in five years. Woods said the DOE wants to support existing teachers and see how it can support college students in teacher preparation programs, so they’re better prepared when they enter the workforce. Woods said the DOE would support legislation that lets retired teachers return to work and still collect retirement benefits. Currently, retired teachers can work part-time if they want to receive benefits.
Woods also spoke of the need to make students aware of the options available to them once they graduate from high school. He said in addition to enrolling in a four-year college or technical school; students need to know they can enlist in the military or go into the workforce. He said schools need to align coursework with available jobs so that students are better prepared once they graduate. For example, Woods said, a student who wants to work in the medical field may be better off taking an anatomy course than physical science.
Lawmakers of both parties have long talked about the need to restructure Georgia’s K-12 funding formula. The QBE (Quality Basic Education) formula was developed in 1985. It has been tweaked since then and has seen its fair share of cuts since 2002.
The legislature has funded QBE at its present levels for the last two years. Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed doing it again this year. Woods is pleased with the governor’s plan but admits QBE will eventually need to be revamped.
“Education looks a whole lot different,” Woods said. “When I first started [teaching] in the 80s, there were no smartboards. We had blackboards; we had film strips and overhead projectors.”
Woods said families today are facing mental health struggles, food insecurity, and other issues that weren’t factored into the formula several decades ago.
“At some point, I hope it’s something we have a deep conversation [about]…because…we really need to look at what we’re doing so we are providing, as our [state] Constitution says, ‘an adequate education,'” Woods said. “We need to make sure it’s exactly that.”