Georgia: Governor Nathan Deal to African-American Ministers: “Trust Me.”

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Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia

Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia is pushing a constitutional amendment to allow the state to take over low-scoring public schools. He calls it an “opportunity school district” and points to New Orleans and the Tennessee Achievement School Districts as models. He brought called together a group of African-American ministers and asked for their support.

Here is the response from one of the attendees, who knew that neither New Orleans or the Tennessee ASD had helped the neediest students. Governor Deal couldn’t answer his questions, because the ALEC model legislation doesn’t explain why cessation of democracy helps schools or what to do after privatizing the schools and giving them to corporations.

Here is the report by Rev. Chester Ellis:

Governor’s Ministers Summoning Meeting was a School Takeover Sales Pitch
By Rev. Chester Ellis 912-257-2394
Pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia

Governor Nathan Deal is working hard to sell the voters on what he calls an Opportunity School District. But this is an opportunity that Georgia should not take.

Recently, The Governor made a pitch to twenty-nine African American ministers in the basement of the mansion. No media was present. But I was one of those ministers.

If Amendment One was about education and opportunity for our communities and children, we could at least hold a logical discussion about evidence-based solutions. As a retired educator and community activist, it is very clear to me that his Opportunity School District is not about education or the community. He has no plan or roadmap to improve schools.

Gov. Deal was looking for our support. He stated, “I need your help.” But we left with more questions than we had answers. It truly is a takeover, and one whose extent is clear to very few voters.

I was disappointed. I thought the Governor would be able to lay out his plan in detail to us. But, what I got from the Governor is he’s making it up as he goes. There’s really no plan. At best, it was guesswork.

Bishop Marvin L. Winans, who has a charter school in Detroit, was the first to speak to us. Brother Winans is a minister and an award winning Gospel singer. He does not live in Georgia. Marvin talked about why he had established his school in Detroit and why he thought it was a good idea that the Governor was willing to do something to help failing schools. But we didn’t have a chance to dialog with him, ask questions or shed light on anything here in Georgia for him. He left for a concert, almost as quickly as he appeared!

Afterwards, the Governor followed with a spiel about why he thought he needed to take over the schools and why the Black clergymen needed to be in support of Amendment 1, The Opportunity School District. He then opened the session up for questions.

I asked him, what is the student to teacher ratio per class of all the schools on your list for takeover? He said he did not have the answer to that question.

My rationale for asking that question was that research tells us ideal pupil to teacher ratio should be 18 to 1, and the further schools and classrooms go past that recommended ratio, the more they are setting students up for failure. Districts need resources to address that problem. The A plus Act of 2000 provided such resources. In fact, this Governor has taken more resources from our public schools. The governor added that he needed to do more research on that issue, so I invited him to do that and gave him some websites he could Google.

I also asked the Governor if all of the schools that are having trouble, as defined by him, are predominately African American schools. He replied, not so much, but that when they looked at schools that were failing they looked at schools that were in a cluster. And that the ministers summoned to the meeting were invited more for being in those identified clusters of schools.

One of my colleagues asked the Governor for the specifics of his Opportunity School District plan. Deal replied that he was using different models, and two of the models he mentioned were the Louisiana Recovery School District and the Tennessee Achievement School District models. Then the question was raised about both of those state’s backing away from the models because they failed to accomplish their achievement goals. In fact indicators prove that New Orleans is worse off now The Governor replied, “We are going to look at what they did wrong, and correct their mistakes so that ours will be right. You know, we have to do something, we are willing to try this and then if it doesn’t work, we are willing to work on what doesn’t work and straighten it out.” The problem with the Governor’s logic is that he is asking the voters to change the state’s constitution. We can’t back up if the voters do that!

The Governor says OSD is a “plan in the works”. . So I urged the Governor to use Massachusetts as a model rather than one from Tennessee or Louisiana, which have both failed.

According to a recent article in Education Week, scholars at the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation and Philadelphia-based Research in Action organization found that some states are proposing to mimic “opportunity school district” takeover models despite evidence that prototypes of these models have gone awry. The esteemed Education Week reports that imitating these models are not an appropriate prescription for providing support for schools that needs it.

Massachusetts put their plan in place with on the ground, in the classrooms education practitioners. . Legislators met with them and applied the educator’s advice and professional know how. They set out on a course working together and didn’t change the course until they got the results they were striving for. They are now one of the celebrated and better school systems in the country. I asked the Governor, why didn’t his planners and plans look at that type of successful model?

He replied, “It’s because of demographics.” I responded that clearly Massachusetts doesn’t look like Georgia but education isn’t rocket science …..It requires an understanding of what you are working with. I also referenced just one of many of our state’s successful public school model, Woodville Thompkins High School in Savannah. I’m a graduate of that school and I have worked since 2006 with that school and the community. As a result it is an award winning school in many disciplines.

For the last two years, Woodville-Tompkins Technical and Career High School has had a 100 percent Graduation rate. They have also been cited as being one of the top 30 programs worldwide in Robotics. There is a way to turn schools around and it doesn’t require a Constitutional Amendment. I don’t see the need. It takes a little elbow grease and total involvement from parents, community and legislators to sustain evidence based solutions and models that are already working.

I don’t buy the Governor’s program or plans. He’s selling the public on a quick fix. I think the Governor has some friends who see education as a carte blanche card; something they can make money off of. It’s about the money, not about the children. The legislation doesn’t even define what a failing school is. The Governor has spent little or no time educating the public on the thirteen pages that compose all of the little devils in his plan per Senate Bill 133. He is spending lots of time though, selling his plan.

The Governor is a lame duck, yet he’s asking citizens to trust him blindly and give him all the power over their schools, public property, pocketbooks and children by changing the constitution.

I thanked the Governor for inviting me, but I told him before I left that there are too many uncertainties and too many unanswered questions to go before my congregation and say we should support this. I’m not comfortable with the Governor’s answers or his solutions. His Opportunity School District has no facts and no plans to improve schools. This is an opportunity that citizens can’t afford to take. It is all about the money. It’s just that simple.

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Rev. Chester Ellis

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