Originally created 02/10/00

GOP offers package to reform state schools



ATLANTA -- When the Georgia House votes today on Gov. Roy Barnes' sweeping education-reform bill, Republicans want to give their colleagues a choice by introducing a version of their own.

The plan is to offer an alternative to Mr. Barnes' 151-page bill and neutralize comments from the governor that anyone not in favor of his proposal opposes improving public schools.

"We are for education reform. We always have been and we supported reform even before the governor came on board," said House Minority Leader Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta.

Mr. Barnes' bill would set up a system of regular pupil testing, holding teachers and administrators accountable for poor results. It removes job protections for new teachers. Those are all measures Republicans support, but they say his bill doesn't go far enough.

Republicans have five amendments ready to add to Mr. Barnes' bill if theirs is defeated as expected. They propose ending social promotion, speeding implementation of state takeover of failing schools, and a five-year cushion for school districts losing money under funding changes.

Republicans also added two issues important to their party -- school vouchers and preservation of GOP state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko's authority over accountability. The vouchers would use taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at private academies for students assigned to the worst public schools.

Some Republican House members downplayed politics, saying they didn't want to harm the chances for their amendments.

Democrats, with the help of some Republicans, defeated most of the same amendments Tuesday in the House Education Committee. Mr. Irvin said he wasn't going to enforce party unity during today's vote on the House floor.

"We weren't trying to get all the Republicans to vote together (Tuesday)," Mr. Irvin said.

Mr. Barnes has already used roughly a dozen of the 50 or so suggestions Republicans gave him. But some complained that Democratic leaders have rushed consideration of the bill.

"That process is one that complicates the amendment process in committee," said state Rep. Bob Snelling, R-Douglasville, a member of the education committee.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424.