Schools to get flexibility based on grades

ATHENS, Ga. — Educators will get the freedom from state rules they’ve long desired if their schools earn top grades, the chairman of the House Education Committee told legislators Tuesday.


He also said the charter-school amendment to the constitution that voters approved last month will give the state power to take control of struggling schools. And the state may soon have authority to move more quickly to remove local school-board members, too.

Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, called the legislation the most significant education-related bill in his 20 years as a lawmaker.

“This is the crown jewel of the whole study,” he said.

The study is the work of a commission legislators created to review the formula in the law for allocating funds to schools that is based on enrollment and other factors. The commission is recommending that the General Assembly update the formula to include funding for technology which wasn’t invented three decades ago when the formula was made law.

The revisions also include money for school nurses, counselors, psychologists and library clerks. No recommendations call for teacher raises or reduced class size, the most costly aspects of the formula which has never been fully funded since it became law anyway.

The revisions will be phased in over three years to soften the impact on the state budget which is already expected to be cut for most state agencies.

“We will have problems implementing some of the things we’re recommending,” said Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, a former local school superintendent who served on the funding commission.

Coleman is also a former superintendent. He said most educators want the freedom to adjust resources to reflect their needs rather than being locked into rules that apply statewide. So, the commission is recommending giving local superintendents whose schools average an “A” or B all the flexibility they need as long as they are following the state curriculum.

They might use library funds to buy classroom computers instead, pay some teachers more than others or use textbook money to hire additional aides, he said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Fran Millar, an Atlanta Republican, predicted that no more than 30 of the state’s 180 school districts would earn the highest grades and the greatest flexibility.

Systems where schools receive the lowest grades would have to negotiate a plan for improvement with the Department of Education which would have authority to grant exemptions from state rules. That would give state officials the added flexibility they have sought to provide specific guidelines to each struggling school.

The charter-school amendment will allow the state to turn failing conventional schools into charter schools which are governed by the “charter” or contract rather than the statewide regulations. One provision of all charters is that a board of directors made of up parents and community members oversees operations independent of the local board of education.

A goal of the commission is to devise a way for the state to step in when whole district boards of education are dysfunctional. Current law allows the governor to remove elected board members if the system loses its accreditation, but Coleman said the commission doesn’t want to wait the five or six years to act that it typically takes for the private Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to strip accreditation.

The actual takeover mechanism and the grading system are still being discussed, he said.

“We’re still putting the flesh on the skeleton we’re developing here,” he said.



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