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Governor signs bill to aid failing schools
I-Deal Signs Education Bill Tanner mug
Kevin Tanner - photo by For the Dawson County News

Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill last Thursday that is intended to help turnaround failing schools in Georgia.

The legislation, House Bill 338, was sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, and signed amid a list of other education and high-profile bills from the latest legislative session.

The bill passed the Senate on March 24 by a 37-18 vote, and the House again on March 28 with a vote of 133-36.

Tanner has deemed the "First Priority Act" an alternative to the Opportunity School District amendment, which was defeated by 60 percent of Georgia voters in the fall.

The legislation will attempt to incentivize school systems to cooperate with the state to help their schools get better as well as hold them accountable.

There are around 153 schools in the state that have been identified as failing according to Tanner, and the bill would work to improve the lowest of them first through the assistance of a board-appointed Chief Turnaround Officer, who would appoint turnaround coaches to go into schools and help them to figure out why they're struggling and create a student improvement plan.

Under HB 338, if after three years a school continues to refuse to implement what is laid out in its student improvement plan, that school would lose its flexibility waiver.

Flexibility in performance contracts have been in place since 2000 and allow schools to waive certain requirements from the state board of education. This saves schools money, and could help to incentivize cooperation from low-performing schools.

According to a press release, Deal also signed legislation addressing sanctuary policies, increased school choice opportunities for military children, testing standards and governance and funding of charter schools.

"Georgia remains committed to improving our state's education system by increasing student access to high-performing schools and learning environments conducive to today's academic standards," said Deal. "To that end, Rep. Tanner has worked tirelessly with my office, members of the General Assembly and other stakeholders on HB 338. By focusing improvement efforts and education resources on our lowest-performing schools, our most vulnerable students will have greater opportunities for success.

"The educational investments in this legislation will produce long-term benefits for students, families and communities by ensuring education outcome is not hindered by zip code, but rather enhanced by state support and local accountability. I want to thank Rep. Tanner, members of the General Assembly and many others who worked together for the benefit of Georgia's current and future students."

Tanner said it has been an honor to work closely with Deal and his team on HB 338.

"I believe that working to improve our state's low-performing schools can have a greater impact on the future of our state than any other issue we could address as a General Assembly," said Tanner. "I appreciate Gov. Deal's leadership in this area, and I look forward to continuing to work with his staff and the State Board of Education to put this plan into real action."