Archives for category: Georgia

Valarie Wilson won the runoff election to be the Democratic candidate for Georgia’s State Superintendent of Education.

The Republican primary was too close to call.

Valarie Wilson was endorsed by the Network for Public Education as a true friend of public schools. Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, was supported by the hedge fund group Democrats for Education Reform, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and the pro-voucher American Federation for Children.

Tomorrow is an important run-off to select the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of Georgia.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, who has worked as a member and president of the local school board in Decatur and has served as president of the Georgia School Boards Association.

Fortunately one of the members of the board of directors of the Network is Bertis Downs, a native of Georgia. He wrote this column to explain why he will vote for Valarie Wilson tomorrow.

Bertis Downs, who cares deeply about the children of Georgia, writes:

“A few years ago, I decided to give up politics, since politicians often disappoint, and many politicians seem to have only one issue once they get elected—staying in office. So all the time and effort and money I used to give to political campaigns, I decided to devote to the single most important issue I care about—improving and effective public schools. If we don’t get that part right—educating our children—then what kind of society can we really expect in the future? Well, it did not take me long to realize that if you care about education—the teaching and learning that goes on in the classroom—then you’d better pay attention to politics. I began trying to connect the dots and to figure out the often massive disconnect between policies passed by politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and the ways our kids’ schools operate.”

“I discovered that what passes as “education reform” is often just a combination of policies that diminish and weaken public schools; boost heavily-marketed “alternatives” like charter schools and voucher programs; revolve around standardized testing with high stakes attached; and then misuse the results of those tests. These policies are taking their toll on morale among our best and most effective teachers, and the people pushing these policies rarely have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t really affect them personally—it’s just politics to them.

“I support groups and individuals, including politicians, who have the same goal I do: good schools for all kids. That sounds simple, but it’s tough to achieve. Schools are complex organisms and have a hard job, given the realities many of their students face when they leave the school grounds.

“Schools cannot be improved with smoke and mirrors and bumper-sticker solutions. “School choice” surely sounds good, and the word “charter” seems to have almost magical connotations to some people. But a good school—public, private or hybrid—shares a few things in common: great teachers who are dedicated to their calling of teaching, who are supported by and learn from each other, who teach in reasonably-sized classrooms and are in a school community that is sufficiently-resourced with adequate facilities and technology, with a rich and varied curriculum, including arts and physical education, and are part of an involved and engaged community of parents and others who support the mission of the school.

“While I recognize that we are not there yet, I think it is important to discern what level of government—local, state or national—is holding us back and making our public schools’ job more difficult every day.

“In my view, the test-driven reforms that started under President George W. Bush but have accelerated under President Barack Obama are most responsible for the current state of play. (Of all the issues, why do the Democrats and Republicans have to pick this one to agree on, and get it so wrong?)”

He concludes:

“As for the runoff for state school superintendent, I strongly support Valarie Wilson, a Decatur parent and former school board member who also has statewide experience as chairwoman of the Georgia School Boards Association. She brings an engaged parent’s perspective, believes in the mission of our public schools and supports the teachers and students who teach and learn there every day. She will work to protect and advance our schools, and she does not subscribe to the false cures and easy-sounding fixes offered by the reform crowd, who have placed their bets elsewhere.

“Wilson knows what it takes and will do everything within her power to make all Georgia schools effective for every child. She will be a fierce advocate for our teachers at a time when they need it the most. And she will do so as a parent, not as a politician taking the careerist’s view.

“I look forward to a time when our state leaders are as focused as our local teachers and administrators on the promise of public education: Each child prepared for life. Wilson would be a great start on that path, and depending on how the “top of the ticket” does in November, she just might have a chance to win the general election. “

Georgia has an important run-off for State Superintendent of Education in the Democratic Party on July 22. If you care about the future of public education in Georgia, please vote.

Valarie Wilson came in first in the primary, with 32% of the vote. The runner-up, Alisha Thomas Morgan, received 26%.

The Network for Public Education has endorsed Valarie Wilson, a strong supporter of public education. In reviewing her list of contributors, it appears that almost all of them live in Georgia. Wilson’s total contributions, after taking out loans, was $178,147. Of those, $174,572 came from supporters who live in Georgia; $3,575–or 2%-came from outside Georgia.

Valarie was elected to the local school board in Decatur in 2002 and served as its president from 2005-2011. She was elected president of the Georgia School Boards Association in 2012-13.

Her opponent, Alisha Thomas Morgan, has been endorsed by the corporate reformers, the hedge fund managers and billionaires, who support privatization, charters and vouchers.

On Morgan’s website, she boasts that she has been endorsed by the Wall Street hedge fund managers group, Democrats for Education Reform; by the voucher-loving American Federation for Children (Betsy DeVos of the Amway fortune, sister of Erik Prince of the infamous Blackwater security company); by Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst; by billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s daughter Emma Bloomberg; by billionaire Eli Broad; and by Frank Biden, brother of Joe Biden, who manages a for-profit charter corporation in Florida called Mavericks.

Most of Morgan’s funding comes from out-of-state donors. Morgan has collected $21,203 from citizens of Georgia. She has collected $70,675 from out-of-state donors.

Here is the list of outside donors to Morgan.

LastName FirstName Cash_Amount
Aluise Joseph 500
American Federation for Children Action Fund-Georgia PAC 3700
Arnold John 1500
Bender Benefits & Insurance 3000
Bing Jonathan 250
Blew James 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Emma 500
Bloomberg Michael 3700
Bloomberg Michael 6300
Bradley Katherine 1000
Bradley Sean 200
Broad Eli 3700
Broad Eli 6300
Conforme Veronica 250
Cunningham Peter 200
Deane-Williams Barbara 150
DeLaski Kathleen 500
DeVos Jr. Richard & Elisabeth 6300
Dostart Steve 250
Dostart Steve 250
Duncan Damon 250
Elisa Louis 100
Elisa Louis 100
Ferguson Wilkie 250
Fields Jarett 75
Fisher John 1000
Francis Gregory 200
Fuller Howard 250
Fuller Howard 250
Gaal Michael 250
Gordon Scott 250
Groff Peter 250
Groff Peter 250
Hilton Adriel 100
Hilton Adriel 100
Holifield Johnathan 250
Huizenga J.C. 2500
Jackson-King Carolyn 150
Johnson Alex 250
K12 Management Inc. 2000
Kihn Paul 250
Kihn Paul 100
Kirtley John 3700
Ledre Jr. Reo 200
Leslie Kent 200
Lomax Michael 250
Martin Rayne 100
McGriff Deborah 250
Nellons-Paige Stephanie 500
payton jr tony 150
Peabody Malcolm 500
Powell Jobs Laurene 6300
Rees Nina 500
Revenaugh Martha 500
Ritchie Daniel 3000
Rudall David 250
Russell Jerome 500
Schilling John 150
The Alex’s Group LLC 150
Thiry Kent 4300
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Thompson Elizabeth 100
Tilson Whitney 250
Total 70675

Jason Carter, grandson of President Jimmy Carter, is running for governor of Georgia against incumbent Nathan Deal. Carter, elected to the state senate in 2010, is a graduate of Duke University who served in the Peace Corps in South Africa, the graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. His wife is a high school teacher. Carter has made education a centerpiece of his campaign and has been especially critical of the devastating budget cuts imposed on the state’s public schools by Governor Deal. This year, election year, Governor Deal proposed to increase education funding, following years of budget cuts. Carter has emphasized that funding education is economic development, an investment in the future.

This showdown is a chance to build a bipartisan coalition to support public schools in every community.

Leading with His Chin: Deal’s Laughable Attack Ads

Ads Betray Vulnerability on Education Issues

ATLANTA—Two new attack ads from Gov. Nathan Deal show his campaign is desperate five months out from Election Day.

“Gov. Deal has the worst record on education in the history of this state,” said Matt McGrath, campaign manager for Carter for Governor. “It’s laughable that he thinks he can trick parents, teachers and students into believing his newfound interest in education funding is anything but an election year sham.

“That said, if Gov. Deal wants to talk about education and whose vision is better for Georgia families, we’re happy to have that debate.

“Jason has been a champion for investing in our schools. He has laid out a specific plan to make sure that students, parents and educators are treated like the priority they should be. Jason is the only candidate in this race with credibility any on education.”

Carter spoke about his plans to invest in education during a conference of Georgia school board members last week. Gov. Deal had been scheduled to speak at the same conference, but canceled at the last minute [Savannah Morning News, 6/13/14] [Creative Loafing, 6/16/14].

At the same conference, Republican State Superintendent John Barge said the governor has “a negative past in dealing with public education,” adding, “The positive things he’s to do this year will be viewed by most folks as election-year politics. And not sincere” [Creative Loafing, 6/16/14].

See below for a summary of Gov. Deal’s record on education:

Governor Deal Is Starving K-12 Education In Georgia

GOVERNOR DEAL’S ELECTION YEAR INTEREST IN K-12 EDUCATION IS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

In an election year, Governor Deal made his first effort to close Georgia’s education funding gap, but still missed the target by three-quarters of a billion dollars [Georgia Department of Education QBE Report for 2015, accessed 6/5/14].

Forty percent of the budget increase for education in this year’s budget covers routine formula increases. The budget only restores $314 million of the year’s austerity cut of $1.06 billion. [GBPI, Jan. 2014]

Gov. Deal’s budget is failing to do what he promised it would. GBPI: “[T]he governor’s [FY 2015 budget] proposal does include money for salary adjustments for state employees, Board of Regents staff and K-12. But the increase is probably not enough for every state employee and teacher to receive even a token pay raise” [GBPI, 02/06/14]. This week, the Muscogee County School District announced it is laying off 42 employees after losing $1 million in state funding this year [Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 6/16/14]. Other districts across the state are seeking waivers to raise their class sizes to as high as 36 students per class [WSAV, 6/10/14] [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 4/28/13].

GOVERNOR DEAL HAS UNDERFUNDED K-12 EDUCATION IN GEORGIA BY BILLIONS

On average, Governor Deal has underfunded K-12 education in Georgia by over $1 billion per year since taking office [Georgia Department of Education QBE Reports for 2012-2013, accessed 4/16/14].

After just four years in office, Gov. Deal is responsible for more than half of the total austerity cuts (about $4.1 billion). In the 13 years since “austerity cuts” to K-12 education began in FY 2003, Georgia has underfunded Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding by a total of over $7.5 billion. Between FY 2003 (when “austerity cuts” began) and FY 2011 (when Gov. Deal took office)—a period encompassing the worst years of the Great Recession—the average QBE shortfall was just $380 million per year. Nathan Deal’s average has been more than 250 percent higher than that, at just over $1 billion per year [Georgia Department of Education QBE Reports for 2003-2015, accessed 6/5/14].

LOCAL TAXES ARE GOING UP, BECAUSE THE GOVERNOR HAS FAILED TO ADEQUATELY FUND K-12 EDUCATION AT THE STATE LEVEL

At least 91 Georgia school districts have had to raise local tax rates between 2010 and 2013, with at least 38 having done so in the last year alone “to offset the combined financial pressure of increased expenses and deep state budget cuts” [GBPI, 11/13; Georgia Department of Revenue Tax Digest Millage Rates for 2010-2013, accessed 6/12/14.]

THE NUMBER OF SCHOOL DAYS IN MOST GEORGIA DISTRICTS HAS FALLEN BELOW 180 DAYS, WHILE CLASS SIZES HAVE GROWN AND PROGRAMS ARE CUT

Each year since Gov. Deal took office, more than two-thirds of Georgia school districts have not taught the 180-day school year, with several districts cutting 30 or more days [Data from the Georgia Department of Education; GBPI, 11/13].

More than 95 percent of Georgia school districts surveyed by GBPI have increased class size since 2009 [GBPI, 11/13].

Public school class sizes in Georgia have increased as districts struggle with funding cuts and falling tax revenue. AP reports: “about 80 percent of Georgia’s 180 school districts approved plans to surpass class size caps last year. Districts are allowed to surpass class size caps as long as they get the decision to do so approved during a public meeting.” [AP, 7/28/13]

Eighty percent of surveyed Georgia school districts will furlough teachers this year, and the majority are slashing funding for professional development [GBPI, 11/13].

About 42 percent of surveyed districts are reducing or eliminating art or music programs and 62 percent are eliminating elective courses. More than 38 percent of surveyed districts are cutting back on programs that help low-performing students [GBPI, 11/13].

Increasing class sizes is a problem with educators trying to teach a more rigorous curriculum. AP: “[S]tudent performance diminishes when class size increases, and overcrowded classrooms can lead to a loss of discipline and more disruptions.” [AP, 7/28/13]

HAVING DRASTICALLY UNDERFUNDED K-12 EDUCATION FOR YEARS, GOV. DEAL NOW WANTS LOCAL AUTHORITIES TO TAKE THE BLAME FOR TEACHER FURLOUGHS AND STAGNANT TEACHER PAY

On his website, Gov. Deal attempts to wash his hands of responsibility for the tough choices his chronic underfunding of education has foisted on local school boards and says questions as to how to make too little money go far enough to meet each district’s needs are “up to your local school board to decide . . .” The website suggests that, if a citizen, parent, teacher or other stakeholder in Georgia’s public education system wants to see teachers better compensated for the critical work they do, he or she should join Gov. Deal in “calling on the school boards to pay teachers more.” [nathandeal.org/payteachersmore, accessed 6/12/14]

“[T]he Nathan Deal campaign is attempting to turn back [criticism that Georgia school systems are “broke” by pointing] dissatisfied parents to local school boards.” From the AJC: “Now the Nathan Deal campaign is attempting to turn back [criticism that local school systems are “broke”] – with this online petition that points dissatisfied parents to local school boards.” [AJC, 2/7/14]

###

Jennifer L. Owens
Deputy Political Director
Jason Carter for Governor
jennifer@carterforgovernor.com
Cell: (404) 625-4377

This comes from the website of the Network for Public Education:

Fight for public ed. in GA to be decided in July 22 run-off. Support Valarie Wilson for GA State Superintendent.

On July 22, the run-off for Georgia State School Superintendent will be decided. Valarie Wilson, NPE’s endorsed candidate and the past-president of the Georgia School Boards Association, was the top vote-getter in the May primary. She is a staunch advocate for local control and she stands opposed to the privatization of the education system. As we have seen in campaigns throughout the country, backers of privatization and a test-driven vision of education have contributed to Valarie’s opponent – a backer of corporate reforms like virtual schools and the proliferation of charters.

Bertis Downs, a member of the NPE Board of Directors and an attorney in Athens, GA explained the importance of the Georgia race and why Valarie is the right choice for State School Superintendent.

“Along with her experience at the state level, Valarie has demonstrated the resolve, skills and acumen required for a nuanced role like State School Superintendent,” said Downs. “But Valarie’s main distinction is that she knows what must be done to deliver on the promise of public education, what each student needs to succeed.”

The Network for Public Education is pleased to support Valarie Wilson and we ask you to please consider contributing to her campaign. Let your friends and colleagues in Georgia know that Valarie Wilson is the right choice for State School Superintendent and be sure to get out the vote on July 22nd.

For more information about Valarie Wilson and her campaign for the future of public education in Georgia, check out http://valforeducation.com.

Valerie Strauss ran this great article by Jim Arnold and Peter Smagorinsky. Jim Arnold recently retired from the superintendent’s position of the Pelham City Schools in Georgia. Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia.

Arnold and Smagorinsky describe the many millions spent on testing, with no end in sight, and ask how that money might be better spent.

They write:

“Last fall journalists exposed the wretched conditions at Trenton High School in New Jersey. Brown water oozed from drinking fountains, rodents roamed freely, teachers and students became physically ill from being in the building, mold covered the walls, roofs were leaking, ceilings were crumbling onto the students and teachers below, streams of water ran down hallways, and morale throughout the building was, not surprisingly, well below sea level. Conditions reached the point where they met the state criterion of being “so potentially hazardous that it causes an imminent peril to the health and safety of students or staff.”

“Governor Chris Christie, however, issued a stop work order that ended an initiative to make essential repairs on this school and over 50 others that were dangerously unsanitary and just plain dangerous, not because of the menace of free ranging, gun-toting ruffians and thugs but because the decrepit buildings themselves required so much maintenance.

“While halting repairs on schools, what the state did invest in was accountability for teachers. No one was accountable for the conditions of the schools until a citizen uprising and news coverage forced a building initiative that fortunately will provide the people of Trenton with a modern facility. But while dodging chunks of falling ceilings, treading cautiously around scurrying rats, and attempting to teach through building-induced illnesses, teachers remained accountable to the standards that Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes can determine their fitness for the classroom.

“We live in Georgia, another state in which schools are grossly underfunded yet consultants and testing corporations are living large off the investment of state funds in holding teachers accountable, regardless of their work conditions or the life conditions of their students. Most schools cannot afford to run a full year, with roughly two-third cancelling 10-30 days every year and requiring teachers to take “furlough” days to make budget. Further, schools in our state have 20th century connectivity infrastructures and technology affordances, limiting the degree to which kids can learn what they’ll need to know to navigate and thrive in our emerging, digitally driven society.

“What we need, however, according to the people making educational policy these days, is not money dedicated to provide a full school year—and many people, evidently unaware that most Georgia schools cannot afford 180 days of school, are pushing for longer school days and years—but a more rigorous curriculum and more tests, preferably more rigorous tests. We use the term “rigorous” ironically given that the rigor of curriculum and assessment are claimed again and again but never established in any clear or responsible way.

“Last year the state of Georgia Department of Education spent a little over $18 million on End of Course Tests in high school and Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) in lower grades. Plans to replace the CRCT with yet a newer testing regime, Georgia Milestones, are underway to the tune of $108 million. Georgia BOE minutes for the May 2014 meeting report that “the State School Superintendent [has been authorized] to enter into a contract with TBD at a cost not to exceed TBD in State/Federal funds for development, administration, scoring and reporting of a new student assessment system.” TBD seems guaranteed to add significantly to the millions already spent on standardized testing in Georgia….Just assuming that Georgia will spend a nearly $140 million on testing and test development next year—and we are only including End of Course, CRCT, and GMAP expenditures, which are only a few of the tests administered in Georgia—what else might the Georgia education department do with that money?”

Read on to learn their ideas about how those millions might be better spent.

Jack Hassard, emeritus professor of science education ay Georgia State University, describes what happened when a family in Marietta decided to opt their child out of state testing. Their school used scare tactics, threatening to have them arrested. They stood their ground, and the school backed down.

Hassard contacted parents in Texas who told him of the bullying tactics in Austin schools, all intended to raise scores. The Austin superintendent has been hired by Atlanta. Hassard says the Opt Out movement is strong and growing stronger in Texas.

Georgia has just contracted with McGraw-Hill for $110 million to design new tests for Georgia. Hassard says all this testing is unnecessary. Georgia could learn all it needs to know sbout its students either from NAEP or by administering no-stakes, sampled tests like NAEP.

Hassard concludes:

“If high-stakes testing is revoked, we will make one of the most important decisions in the lives of students and their families, and the educators who practice in our public schools. Banning tests, throwing them out, eliminating them, what ever you wish to call it, will open the door to more innovative and creative teaching, and an infusion of collaborative and problem solving projects that will really prepare students for career and college.

“Making kids endure adult anger is not what public education is about. Why in the world are we so angry and willing to take it out on K-12 students? Why do we put the blame on children and youth, and if they don’t live up to a set of unsubstantiated and unscientific standards and statistics, we take it out on teachers?

“The best thing for students is throw the bums (tests) out. The next best thing will be for teachers because without standardized test scores, there will be no way to calculate VAM scores as a method to evaluate teachers.”

Yesterday Georgians voted for state superintendent of schools. The Network for Public Education endosed Valarie Wilson, a former school board member from Decatur. After surveying all the candidates, NPE concluded that Wilson would be a strong leader for public schools and children.

In a crowded field, Wilson finished first with 32%, and will be in a runoff with the runner-up, who received 26% and supports the choice-loving conservative establishment. Choice in the South promotes segregation.

Parents in Georgia sued to block a tax-credit program that has drained nearly $300 million from public schools since 2008. Meanwhile the public schools have had to absorb crippling budget cuts.

“A controversial state program that offers tax credits to people who fund private school scholarships is unconstitutional and robs public schools of much-needed financial support, a lawsuit filed by Georgia parents Thursday argues.

“The group, backed by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation, says the student scholarship tax credits violate both the state constitution and tax laws by, among other things, providing indirect public funding to religious schools, giving donors illegal benefits and allowing a publicly funded school program to be run by private groups.”

The Southern Education Foundation issued the following statement:

Statement by Steve Suitts, Vice President, Southern Education Foundation

April 3, 2014

“The Southern Education Foundation fully supports the lawsuit challenging Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program.

“The tax credit program for private schools has drained almost $300 million in tax funds from the state treasury since 2008 while public schools have suffered deep cuts across the state. The first constitutional obligation of the state is to provide “an adequate public education” for Georgia’s public school children.

“This state tax-funded program is administered by self-appointed private organizations that are virtually unregulated. They collect, spend, and distribute millions of tax dollars to private schools. Both tax funded private scholarship organizations and tax-funded private schools are unaccountable to the public for how they spend tax dollars, who receives tax-funded scholarships, and how they are educating children to meet state standards.

“This has been a costly failed experiment that is operating contrary to the state constitution. It is time to end it once and for all.”

There are people who hate public education and don’t care much about any kind of education. Some are legislators. Some have positions of influence in states like Georgia.

Here Maureen Downey writes about the latest legislative assault, which started as an attack on Common Core and grew into something far worse.

As one who has been critical of Common Core in its current form, I want to disassociate myself from this extremism. I think the Common Core should be revised by every state’s best teachers and improved. I think the early grades must be made developmentally appropriate. I don’t believe any set of standards is beyond improvement. I also hope they will be decoupled from high-stakes testing. What is happening in Georgia is legislative meddling at its worst.

Downey writes:

“In capitulating to extremists who consider Common Core the work of the devil and/or Barack Obama, the state Senate passed a bill last week that isolates Georgia from the rest of the nation, sets our students up for failure and reverses the progress schools have made over the last eight years.

“The main intent of Senate Bill 167 bill was to ban the Common Core State Standards in Georgia.

“It no longer does that, which is good considering Georgia has already invested years into putting the standards into practice, training teachers and rewriting curriculum. In a compromise with the governor who didn’t want a Common Core battle in an election year, the bill was changed so it doesn’t ban Common Core, but sets up a review of the standards.

“That compromise explains why the bill passed the Senate so easily last week and with little debate. But senators should have read the 18-page bill a little more closely as it still contains plenty of bad stuff, including a prohibition on embracing any new content or tests that even smack of national standards. Let’s hope that wiser minds prevail in the House and put the brakes on this bill, either killing it completely or rewriting it to get rid of all the mandates.

“The bill still states: On and after the effective date of this Code section, the state shall not adopt any federally prescribed content standards or any national content standards established by a consortium of states or a third party, including, but not limited to, the Next Generation Science Standards, the National Curriculum for Social Studies, the National Health Education Standards, or the National Sexuality Standards.”

“Imagine telling Georgia doctors they couldn’t use any cancer treatments developed by medical teams or labs outside the state. Patients would riot in the streets. So should parents over this piece of legislation.”

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