Georgia Republicans weigh new plan to intervene in struggling schools after Amendment 1 defeat

Gov. Nathan Deal discusses the Opportunity School District referendum with moderator Karen Greer and members of the audience at Impact Church in East Point last week. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal discusses the Opportunity School District referendum with moderator Karen Greer and members of the audience at Impact Church in East Point last week. Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Athens – Gov. Nathan Deal is so far mum on his backup plan to the failing schools initiative that failed in November. But a handful of House Republicans are quietly gathering support for their own measure to give the state more power to intervene in struggling schools.

At the legislative biennial conference in Athens, House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman said Monday there will be legislation outlining a “six-step” plan to give the state more power to address the schools.

He wouldn’t talk specifics, referring questions to state Rep. Kevin Tanner, a Dawsonville Republican who will be championing the measure. Tanner was tight-lipped, too, but said he’s already met with state School Superintendent Richard Woods, educators groups and state administrators to lay the groundwork. Deal’s office has also been consulted.

“We want to brief some other folks on this before we talk publicly. We want to work within the existing system we already have, working with the state board of education and the school superintendent,” he said. “We’re not creating a new bureaucracy, it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment.”

He indicated the measure would give the State Board of Education – whose members are appointed by the governor – more power to intervene.

He also said it would avoid the constitutional questions raised by the 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that concluded that only county and area school boards have the explicit authority to create and maintain charter schools. Deal has said that ruling is why he pushed for a constitutional amendment rather than the simpler route of a legislative change.

“We feel like we’d be on good constitutional ground,” said Tanner, a member of the House education committee. “We think there’s a route.”

Top Deal aide Chris Riley said the governor was open to the idea.

“With 68,000 students trapped in failing schools in Georgia by law, every option should be considered,” he said.

Deal has said he’s exploring alternatives to give students in struggling schools more options and that the burden is now on local school districts, many which fiercely opposed the proposal, to pick up the slack.

The polls predicted a defeat for the Opportunity School District for months, and even Deal had floated the prospect of a Plan B. Still, the measure’s lopsided failure in the polls – it went down 60-40 with solid opposition from Republicans and Democrats – is a rebuke to his second-term initiative.

Deal’s allies cast the defeat as a byproduct of more than $5 million in spending from education groups and other opponents who see this as a national proxy battle. The critics saw it as a saw it as a government overreach that gives Deal’s office too much power.

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