Teachers unions are asking for more from Gov. Nathan Deal after his school takeover plan failed, and Deal has to figure out how to respond.
The Georgia Federation of Teachers, headed by Verdaillia Turner, wants to sit-down with Gov. Deal to discuss education.
“It is time to raise the bar. Georgia voters sent a message that we can no longer pander to political agendas when it comes to schools and kids,” Turner told the AJC. “In the past, educators who were not handpicked by elected officials were excluded from the process. Decisions were somehow made without our input. This must cease.”
In November, voters — backed by a coalition campaign that included Georgia Association of Educators, Georgia Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, Better Georgia, Public Education Matters and nearly 20 other groups — defeated an amendment that would have allowed the state to take over so-called “failing schools” and usurp local control. This was Gov. Deal’s signature takeover legislation. (Although, given that Deal just unilaterally suspended the entire Dooly County school board and is going to hand pick replacements, it seems he already has quite a bit of power to take-over schools and school boards.)
Gov. Deal has lost the confidence of voters in his school reform agenda, which will make the next two years tough as a lame duck governor trying to leave an education reform legacy.
As Turner said, he’s also largely operated by hand picking political allies to serve on boards, including the Education Reform Commission and later the Teacher Advisory Committee.
The Education Reform Commission was tasked with issuing recommendations for, no surprise here: education reform. None of their recommendations included the school takeover — that seemed to be a “reform” measure of the governor’s own doing — however teacher pay and school funding are both likely to be big issues if the Commission’s recommendations gain any traction during the upcoming legislative session. Currently, Deal’s 90-member Teacher Advisory Committee is reviewing the Commission’s findings, and presumably the Governor will use that review to shape legislative priorities in 2017.
Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan said, in response to Turner, “[Gov. Deal] looks forward to hearing the solutions of these unions and special interest groups.” It’s interesting that educators are a special interest group when it comes to education.
Gov. Deal talks a good game around education reform. In fact, during the announcement for the Education Reform Commission back in 2015, Deal said:
“My vision for K-12 education in Georgia is a system driven by student need that provides local school and district leaders with real control and flexibility. With this commission now in place, it is my hope that we will work together to make education more accessible and effective in preparing our state’s students for the rigors of college and the workforce. Georgia families depend on our classrooms, and now it’s time we take the responsibility in full to provide the high-quality, technologically advanced education they so deserve.”
Certainly Deal’s failed takeover measure was not representative of a vision for local control over schools. If any of what he says is a real, meaningful commitment on his part to improve Georgia’s education system, then Gov. Deal needs to really show up for this.
This means meeting with stakeholders — and not just the ones that share his views on education reform via privatization. It also means he has to ‘put his money where his mouth is,’ to borrow such a blunt phrase. The deficit in education spending has closed over the past few years, but it still exists. There are still Georgia schools furloughing teachers. Teachers are still digging into their own pockets to buy school supplies. Not only does education need to be fully funded, but additional investments need to happen in order for teachers and students to succeed, like offering more competitive teacher pay, adequately funding support staff like social workers and school bus drivers and investing in art, music and physical education classes.
So, Gov. Deal, what are you going to do?