Georgia Governor Receives School-Reform Proposals

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Gov. Joe Frank Harris of Georgia this month promised to make the recommendations of the state's Education Review Commission the beginning of "a campaign for educational excellence" that will occupy lawmakers for much of the 1985 legislative session.

Last week, after 18 months of deliberation, the commission presented its first report for overhauling the state's educational system, "Priorities for a Basic Quality Education," to Governor Harris and the state's General Assembly.

The far-reaching proposals, to be phased in over the next four years, would cost an additional $153 million over the $1.4 billion in state funds now budgeted for schools for fiscal 1986. By fiscal 1989, the proposals would cost the state approximately $506 million and would require an additional $218 million in local funds. The costs would increase by approximately $17 million each year thereafter, according to Edward C. Harris, vice chairman of the commission.

Setting Priorities

The commission listed as its priorities increased compensation for teachers, higher standards of accountability for educators, mandatory full-day kindergarten, and a state-aid formula based on student need.

The commission has proposed that the state:

Raise salaries for beginning teachers by at least 17 percent over the next three years, from $14,329 to $16,750, and provide an additional 7-percent "catch-up" salary increase for school administrators, effective in fiscal 1986.

The commission also recommended that the annual salary increase that teachers now receive based on years of service be contingent upon a satisfactory annual evaluation by the teacher's supervisors.

Establish a "career ladder" for teachers, with five plateaus of career development.

The commission also suggested career-development incentives for superintendents and principals. These would include annual performance evaluations, with additional pay for above-average and outstanding performance; extra pay for principals and superintendents with 12-month contracts and for principals in middle, junior, and senior high schools; and higher salaries for administrators who are responsible for a large number of students.

The report recommends that the Governor appoint a task force of those who would be affected by the proposals to develop plans for a career ladder and leadership incentives, to be implemented in fiscal 1987.

Strengthen Georgia's performance-based certification for teachers by revising existing knowledge tests and performance assessments and by requiring more teachers to take the examinations. Approximately half of Georgia's teachers now hold "life certificates," which exempt them from requirements for performance-based certification and continuing education.

Create state-supported, manda-tory, full-day kindergartens in every elementary school, with at least 4.5 hours of instruction per day. Children would be required to take a post-kindergarten readiness test for advancement to the 1st grade or to transitional classes. The state's attendance law--which requires that all children attend school by age 7--would remain unchanged.

Revise the state-aid formula to provide an adequate financial base for each student, according to the student's grade level and particular needs. The annual base for each student in grades 4 through 8, for example, would be approximately $1,293. For a student in kindergarten, the rate would be about $1,700 per year because of lower student-teacher ratios. The base would increase according to the amount of time that a student spends in more expensive programs, such as remedial- or special-education classes.

Require a local contribution to education equivalent to a 5-mill tax rate, with additional state funds provided to districts that exceed 5 mills.

Expand the assessment program for students to include tests for 1st-grade readiness; measures of progress in writing, science, and social studies; a writing test for graduation; vocational achievement tests; and testing for national comparisons in grades 4, 7, and 11.

Establish teams of trained state employees, local business leaders, parents, and educators to evaluate each school and school system at least once every five years, with a focus on student achievement. Find-ings would be publicized in local newspapers.

Create a statewide core curriculum built around 76 academic competencies, and alter vocational curricula to place more emphasis on academics and less on training for specific jobs.

Set standardized, statewide eligibility criteria for compensatory education, and reduce class sizes in compensatory education.

End elected local superintendencies in the state and replace them with board-appointed positions.

No New Taxes

The blue-ribbon commission was appointed by Governor Harris last year to propose possible school re-forms. The Governor praised the commission for providing the "most complete and far-reaching assessment of public education ever undertaken" in the state.

He admitted that the proposals would demand significantly more money than is now available for education, but vowed to provide those funds without a tax increase.

The necessary money, he said, would come from "new levels of accountability, a new local commitment to education spending, and new formulas" for spending available funds.

The Governor will develop budget recommendations based on the commission's proposals in the next few months, according to Barbara Morgan, his press secretary. She said he will present that package to the legislature early in 1985.

Mixed Reactions

Charles McDaniel, superintendent of the Georgia Department of Education, said he is pleased with "most of the recommendations" in the report.

"If implemented, they will go a long way in correcting many of the problems that have been plaguing Georgia public education for so long,'' he said. "I am especially pleased to see the recommendations for increased teacher salaries and for full-day kindergarten." He said that the department has been working for those improvements for a number of years.

However, two members of the commission--Lisa S. Collins and Anne Tolleson--contended that the on a small group of people in the Governor's office.

Edward Harris called the criticism a "tempest in a teapot," noting that the two women did not express explicit disagreement with a single recommendation.

Teachers' groups in the state criticized the evaluation requirement for teachers, saying that it closely resembled merit-pay proposals.

'Consensus View' Claimed

The commission's report claims that the recommendations are the "consensus view of over 1,000 educators, business people, and parents" in Georgia.

Governor Harris asked that those responsible for educational excellence in the state make "every humanly possible effort to avoid obstructions to reaching that goal that may be thrown up by special-interest groups."

No Time To Waste

"We do not have time to waste in turf-guarding and self-preservation tactics," he cautioned.

Members of the Joint House and Senate Education Committee, the3Education Review Commission, and the Governor's staff were meeting last week to discuss the report's contents.

The commission's final report, including all of its recommendations, will be issued by the end of 1984. Members of the commission have said that all of the recommendations could be initiated in three years. Many of the recommendations, they said, could be implemented in the coming year.

Citizen 'Report Card'

Consequently, the panel recommended that a group of citizens be appointed to issue a "report card" on the state's progress in implementing the proposals by June 30, 1986, and again by June 30, 1987.

"One of the great difficulties in education, especially in Georgia,'' said the panel's vice chairman, Edward Harris, "is that the process is shrouded in mystery. We have very little that tells us what our students are achieving individually or collectively. We have very little method of determining whether we have good or bad leaders or teachers. Our principal objective is to open up the process for the people of the state to see."

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