What is the First Priority Act?

File/Associated Press Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed the First Priority Act into law on April 27. The state Department of Education is searching for a chief turnaround officer who will focus on intervention efforts at underperforming schools across Georgia. There are 21 such schools in the Richmond County School System.ly struggle. The Republican governor said in his State of the State speech Wednesday that nearly 89,000 students were stuck in failing schools last year and their number “will grow with each passing school year” if nothing is done. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

In November, Georgians voted against Opportunity School District, an amendment that would give the state control over persistently failing schools.

 

In March, the House and Senate voted in favor of House Bill 338, also known as the First Priority Act, legislation similar to the amendment but less aggressive. Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law April 27, and later tweeted, “HB 338 & other legislation I signed today will provide GA students with greater opportunities for success.”

The Georgia Department of Education is currently using a search firm to hire a Chief Turnaround Officer, who will identify which schools throughout the state need intervention. The turnaround officer will work with “turnaround coaches” who will enter the schools and work with teachers, parents and administrators to improve the institutions. All of this will be done at the expense of the school. Interviews for the turnaround officer position are expected to begin in September.

There are currently 21 underperforming schools in the Richmond County School system, according to previous Augusta Chronicle articles. The only districts with more underperforming schools were Dekalb County (26 schools) and Atlanta Public School District (23 schools). In February, Deal commented on the problem while in Augusta to sign the midyear budget amendment for the new Cyber Innovation and Training Center.

“The Richmond County School system has some work to do,” the governor said. “They have too many chronically failing schools.”

Requests to confirm which Richmond County schools might be affected by the First Priority Act were not addressed by director of communications Kaden Jacobs.

However, the school district has time to bring test scores and graduation rates up and remove those schools from the list. Richmond County Board of Education member Wayne Frazier said something needs to be done for schools but that he is not sure the First Priority Act is the answer.

“We could do it ourselves if we had the resources,” he said. “They should give more money and if we can’t fix it, then they can take over.”

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