Georgia's schools have been in the spotlight this week. President Obama visited Decatur's College Heights Early Learning Center to advocate expanded access to pre-kindergarten programs throughout the nation. Former Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond stepped in as interim superintendent of DeKalb County Schools as part of the effort to save the system's accreditation. And in Columbus, parent reaction to the recommendation of a new principal for Reese Road Elementary has been a big story.
Only a slight fraction of this week's education spotlight has been shone on the status of Georgia House Bill 123.
Under HB 123, if 60 percent of the parents or 60 percent of the instructional staff in an existing public school petition their school board to become a charter school, the school board would be required to approve the conversion. HB 123 would also allow parents and teachers in low-performing schools to petition the school board to implement one of a number of improvement programs, some of which require the removal of the school's current administrators.
House Bill 123 was voted out of the House Education Committee this past Tuesday with a recommendation that it pass. In layman's terms, that means that House Bill 123 will soon come before all members of the Georgia House of Representatives for a vote. Since the bill has strong support among the House leadership, it will likely pass the House by a large margin, then be sent to the Senate for their action.
If it becomes law, HB 123 would fundamentally alter the governance of local schools. Parents and teachers would no longer be limited to just talking about the changes they want to see in their schools; they would have a defined mechanism for triggering those changes through coordinated, collective action.
That's a game-changing proposal.
And, it is a proposal that deserves more of our attention.
The idea that parents could override the decisions of an elected school board somewhere other than the ballot box is as concerning to some school board representatives as it is empowering to some PTAs. Seven states have already adopted a version of this type of legislation. The first was California, where legislation was adopted in 2010. Since California Senate Bill 4 passed, parents of two California schools have exercised their petition rights under the law. Both cases sparked court battles between the schools and the parent petitioners.
Regardless of whether you believe HB 123 would help or hurt public education in Georgia, we must engage in more public discussion about this major legislation. The possibility of unintended consequences is great on both sides of the debate. We must proceed thoughtfully.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.