Georgia voters soundly defeat school takeover proposal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks March 27, 2015, in Atlanta.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks March 27, 2015, in Atlanta. AP

The governor and more than two-thirds of the legislators supported the proposal, enabling it to be on the ballot, but Georgia’s voters soundly defeated Tuesday’s referendum that would have empowered the state to take over chronically failing schools or convert them to charters or even close them.

With all 159 counties reporting, Amendment 1 failed 60 percent (2,400,312 votes) to 40 percent (1,599,649 votes) statewide, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website. Locally, however, the majority of voters in Muscogee and Chattahoochee counties favored the proposal while the majority of voters in Harris County rejected it.

In Muscogee County the Yes votes were 51 percent (34,301) and the No votes were 49 percent (32,341). In ChattCo, the Yes votes were 57 percent (730 votes) and the No votes were 43 percent (559 votes). In Harris County, the Yes votes were 47 percent (7,526 votes) and the No votes were 53 percent (8,332 votes).

If voters approved Amendment 1, the state would have created an Opportunity School District, which Gov. Nathan Deal proposed based on similar initiatives in Louisiana and Tennessee. The proposal would have allowed Georgia’s governor to appoint an OSD superintendent, separate from the Georgia Department of Education superintendent, who is elected by voters.

The OSD superintendent could have taken over as many as 20 eligible schools each year and could have controlled no more than 100 such schools at any time. The OSD superintendent could have waived Georgia Board of Education rules, reorganized or fired staff and changed school budgets and curriculum. The state also could have converted OSD schools to nonprofit or for-profit charter schools or closed them if they didn’t have full enrollment.

The state would have used the College and Career Ready Performance Index to determine which schools are eligible for takeover. Schools that score below 60 on the 100-point CCRPI for three straight years could have been included in the OSD. Those schools would have stayed in the OSD for no less than five years (or, if they are an OSD charter school, for the length of the initial charter’s term) and no more than 10 years before returning to local control. Opportunity Schools could have been removed from the OSD whenever they are graded above an F in the state’s accountability system for three straight years.

Muscogee County had 10 of the 141 schools on the state’s original list of chronically failing schools released last year. Georgetown and Rigdon Road elementary schools, however, improved enough with other schools in the state on the 2015 CCRPI to move off the list. That leaves 127 schools in Georgia and these eight in Muscogee on the current list: Baker Middle School and Davis, Dawson, Forrest Road, Fox, Lonnie Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. and South Columbus elementary schools.