School Choice & Charters

Georgia Voters Defeat State-Run District for Struggling Schools

By Denisa R. Superville — November 09, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


Georgia voters soundly defeated a measure sought by Gov. Nathan Deal to change the state constitution to create a special district to take over low-performing schools.

Unofficial election results from Georgia’s secretary of state on Wednesday showed that, with all precincts reporting, the measure to create a so-called Opportunity School District was defeated, with 60 percent of voters rejecting it, and 40 percent voting in favor.

The Opportunity School District was expected to be a signature piece of education policy for Deal.

He had framed the district’s creation in personal terms, arguing that it was the state’s “moral” duty to rescue some 68,000 or so students who attend schools that were among the lowest-performing for three consecutive years, and to provide those students with better education options.

The measure’s defeat was foreshadowed in a poll the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published on Oct. 21, which showed that 59 percent of the 1,000 likely registered voters it polled opposed the Opportunity School District. Thirty-four percent were in favor, and 8 percent were undecided. (The paper, for its part, has been assiduously covering every twist and turn in this debate for nearly a year.)

More than $7 million had been raised through early November by groups both for and against the measure, the AJC also reported this month.

An unlikely, but formidable, coalition of teachers’ unions, school boards, district administrators, the state PTA , and some conservative Republicans strongly opposed the measure. But, illustrating how fraught the issue was, some school boards and district superintendents backed Gov. Deal. The governor’s allies also included Democrats and Republicans, as well as national education reform groups such as 50CAN.

The Opportunity District was modeled in part on Louisiana’s Recovery School District and Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

However, two things had to fall into place before Georgia could follow Louisiana’s and Tennessee’s lead. The legislature had to pass a bill to create the new statewide district. And Georgia had to amend its constitution to create the district, precipitating the need for the ballot question.

The district would have been run by a superintendent who would have reported only to the governor. Up to 20 schools would have been selected annually. Schools would have been subjected to a number of interventions, including closure, charter conversion, or collaboration with the local district to improve them.

While the law required the superintendent to hold community meetings and get feedback from parents and the community on what was best for targeted schools, the final decision about what schools to include in the district and the interventions they would get would have been left to the sole discretion of the superintendent.

Proponents argued the takeover was a temporary—but necessary—measure to provide a better education for students who languish too long in failing schools. They also argued that it would give parents and communities a greater voice in how schools would be run.

Opponents, however, argued that the proposal was an attempt to wrest local control and tax dollars from districts. Some educators, including DeKalb County superintendent Stephen Green and Valarie Wilson of the Georgia School Boards Association, told Education Week last month that districts were already working to turn around chronically low-performing schools, and some had started new programs, including principal support, wraparound services, and teacher-training, in some of those schools. The ballot question’s language was also criticized for being “vague” and prompted a lawsuit.

Will the rejection of Georgia’s proposal deter other states from considering this kind of turnaround approach?

Probably not. Georgia&dmash;with the additional layer of the constitutional amendment—might just be a special case, Nelson Smith, a senior adviser to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, told us last month as the debate heated up in the Peach State.

“I do think the fact that [Georgia] requires a constitutional referendum may make it an outlier, and reduce the impact that it might have on other states, because states can go a long way toward doing this administratively or through simple statutes, without having to go through the kind of protracted debates that Georgia is going through,” Smith said.

The Georgia effort had to cross two hurdles.

“It basically requires two political debates—one about the legislation itself, and then the second about the constitutional measure, the referendum,” Nelson said at the time. “It’s before the public for a long time. And, in a sense, that’s very healthy—it lets everybody get their views on the table. But it does make it a more pointed political issue.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty