Gov. Nathan Deal just appointed former legislator Mike Cheokas to the State Board of Education. Although there’s no definitive information available about what this means, it does give me pause.
Cheokas lost his seat to Democrat Bill McGowan during the past election, in part over his support of Gov. Nathan Deal’s failed school takeover measure.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) is tasked with supporting the state superintendent. The state super, Richard Woods, is someone who never came out and opposed OSD, even though it would have impacted public schools. The press release from the Department of Education and Woods on the matter is actually a really excellent example of deflection and redirection.
The SBOE can also approve charter school applications and hear challenges to local school board rulings related to student and teacher discipline.
Their code of ethics also specifically directs them to, “not undermine the authority of the State Superintendent.” SBOE members are expected to hold meetings and do other sorts of regular bureaucratic basics, but Deal’s appointment of Cheokas will likely shield the governor from scrutiny or criticism about any school takeover plans the governor tries to implement.
Concerns have been floating around the education community that Deal’s so-called “Opportunity School District” will be revived one way or another. Gov. Deal has a very clear approach to education reform, even if he’s currently being vague on what his “Plan B” is. So it makes sense that he’d be appointing folks who shared his vision, or would be interested in otherwise supporting continued moves towards turning our public schools over to for-profit corporations.
Of note, too, are some other key appointments Gov. Deal has made recently. Deal just added three new state Supreme Court Justices, and a handful of judges to lesser courts. (By the way, the lack of diversity of these appointments is kind of appalling).
One speculation I heard was that Gov. Deal could use the State Board of Education to make administrative policy changes, and any legal challenges would face a court more amenable to his positions. The reason there have been constitutional amendments related to school privatization in the first place is because the state Supreme Court previously threw out a legislative measure to authorize it. That legislation was ruled unconstitutional. My most cynical interpretation is: if you can’t change the constitution, change the people who interpret it. And make sure the administrative bodies that support your agenda are full of friends.
There’s no clear information yet as to what Gov. Deal is planning, but it’s certainly worth pausing and taking note of changes to personnel and such along the way.