Penny Houston: A Bold Change for Failing Schools

On November 8, voters in Georgia will be asked a question that has the potential to change K-12 education in our state for an entire generation of children. Question 1 on the ballot will read, “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student achievement?”

YES – I am voting for this amendment. I believe it is my obligation to speak up for children whose future does not look bright and stop the “pipeline” to poverty and prison many Georgia students face due to becoming school drop outs.

As an ardent supporter of local control, I believe the elected officials closest to the people govern most effectively and efficiently. However, this is not a traditional “local government knows best” policy question. It is about children who will be forced by law to attend a failing school.

As a legislator, I carry a responsibility to all citizens of this state, including children and taxpayers.

My obligation is to spend taxpayer money wisely. I believe it would be a mistake to continue, year after year, to devote precious taxpayer funds to schools where failure is the norm and accountability is altogether absent for those in charge. Children are suffering – in some instances for the entire duration of their K-12 education – because of these failing schools.

Many articles in the press regard this as an important issue, but present no specifics. Please take time to read some of the facts as to why we need Opportunity School District (OSD).

Top Facts on the Opportunity School District and Failing Schools in Georgia

  • Based on the state accountability system approved by the State Board of Education, a school earning a rating of “F” for a minimum of three consecutive years is eligible to enter the OSD. The OSD will oversee no more than 20 schools in any single school year in order for the OSD to direct its full attention and resources to these identified schools.
  • Approximately 68,000 children in six percent of schools (127 of 2,089 schools in the state) are required to attend schools having received a failing score for three consecutive years.
  • On average, 31.4 percent of third graders read on grade level in failing schools, compared to 56.8 percent of students in the borderline “C” schools.
  • Children cannot read, cannot learn and are, therefore, more likely to drop out of school. The graduation rate for students attending failing schools is an abysmal 55.7 percent.
  • Seventy percent of Georgia inmates do not have a high school diploma. Improving educational outcomes for students in areas of the state with high incarceration rates will provide young people with bright futures instead of a life behind bars.
  • From January 2011 to the end of the 2015 school year, more than 96,660 students dropped out of school. This is approximately 8,700 more students than are currently enrolled in the entire Technical College System.
  • If your child already attends a well-performing public school, the Opportunity School District program will not change their school in any way. Only six percent of all public schools in Georgia qualify for the OSD program. The Opportunity School District program gives less fortunate children trapped in failing schools the same opportunity to succeed as a child in a successful school.
  • Within the limits of the school budget, staffing will be determined by the principal. All existing staff members at the qualifying school will be interviewed. Staff members will be reviewed based upon student growth and performance data before any staffing recommendations are finalized. Any tenured teacher not given the option shall remain an employee of the local school system.
  • Representatives of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which is part of the labor union AFL-CIO, have traveled across state voicing their opposition to the Opportunity School District amendment. One such reason they oppose OSD is, “…parents, educators and community members lose their ability to have a voice in what happens in neighborhood schools.” This is not correct.
  • The legislation states no more than three percent of existing funds directed to a school within the OSD shall be withheld for administrative operations. The money must follow the child.
  • Critics of this amendment omit the most important part: What is best for the child? We have a real chance to provide students, families and communities a lifeline. Voting “Yes” on Question 1, the Opportunity School District amendment, is a vote to ensure future generations of Georgians receive the best education. A quality education can determine one’s path in life regardless of where they were born or where they live in the state.

For more information, please visit www.gaopportunity.org.

About the Author

Penny Houston
Ga. State Rep. Penny Houston, R-Nashville, represents the citizens of District 170, which includes all of Berrien and Cook counties and portions of Tift County. She was elected into the House of Representatives in 1997, and is currently the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Economic Development. She also serves on the Banks & Banking, Budget & Fiscal Affairs Oversight, Economic Development & Tourism, and Ways & Means committees.