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Tanner introduces bill for failing schools
A-Tanner Failing Schools pic 1
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, speaks to a gathered breakfast crowd at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame on Saturday. Tanner updated attendees on the status of some of his bills, including one he just introduced that would address the issue of failing schools within the state. - photo by Allie Dean Dawson County News

Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, introduced a bill last week that is his answer to last session's failed Amendment One, also known as the Opportunity School District amendment.

Tanner spoke about the new bill at his breakfast on Feb. 11 at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, a meeting he holds every other Saturday throughout the session.

He wanted to make one thing clear from the start: this bill is not the Opportunity School District, plan B.

"It's not OSD, it has nothing to do with OSD," Tanner said. "Before OSD came out, most of us recognized that something needed to be done about failing schools. The good thing about OSD is that it pushed the issue to the forefront of conversation, but this has nothing to do with it."

The legislation, House Bill 338, as Tanner described it, attempts to incentivize local school systems to cooperate with the state to help their schools get better as well as hold them accountable.

To start, the bill would create an Education Turnaround Advisory Council, who would be in charge of hiring Chief Turnaround Officers. The Chief Turnaround Officers, or CTOs, would be salaried employees of the state who would be in charge of going into failing schools and helping them set up plans for improvement.

"A CTO would have to have a long history of experience in education, specifically a certain number of years of being a public school principal or higher," Tanner said. "I thought it was important that this person had run a public school."

The CTO assigns Turnaround Coaches, who along with the CTO and local RESA would go in and analyze the school to find out why they are not being successful. A report would be given to the school system, and based on that they would create a specific student improvement plan.

Tanner said that schools are typically unsuccessful for two main reasons, though the individual reasons schools are failing are varied.

"Number one is external factors, and two is leadership," Tanner said. "The leadership component, we're attempting to address by bringing in this high-level expert who has experience in running public schools and turning around public schools, and also by bringing in this coach who will be there on a regular basis and will work hand in hand with the local leadership.

"External factors are much more difficult to fix. Most failing schools are in areas of high minority populations, high poverty, high free and reduced lunches, a lot of non-English speaking students, and if you look at the list of failing schools that's typically what you'll see."

Once the plan is created and the school agrees to it, they have two years to implement changes. If they are still not participating after two years, the CTO can start enforcing the student improvement plan.

"My hope is that the overwhelming majority of the systems will see that for the first time they have someone from the state with a specific level of expertise that is bringing some resources to help them and they will want to get on board," Tanner said. "If not, there is accountability."

Tanner also said that the bill would create a joint study committee that would look into establishing a state accreditation process that would be a complement to SACS accreditation.

Tanner said he doesn't know what that would look like yet.

"You can ask me questions on that, say how that would work, how would that look, and I don't know," Tanner said. "That's why we're not trying to write it in legislation today, that it's a good idea and here's what we're going to do- we're saying that needs to be explored."

Also in the legislation is language that states if a school district has over half or more of their schools on the list of failing schools for five years or more, the school board can be removed.

There are 153 failing schools on the list, but no districts have gotten to that point yet.

"Currently there are no schools in the entire state that falls into that category," Tanner said.

Tanner said that Governor Nathan Deal has been supportive of the bill so far.

Bette Holland, chair of the Dawson County Democratic Party and a staunch opponent of Amendment One last fall, surprised the room by voicing her full support of the bill.

"This bill addresses all of the issues that we had with amendment one," Holland said. "It's a wonderful bill. [Tanner] listened to what you all said...it has taken away the extra bureaucracy of the superintendent who only had to be a business person with no educational qualifications. He's put that person into the BOE, he's engaged people from education, and amendment one didn't engage people in education...it's just amazing.

"I can't think of anything in this bill that I would try to change there are some things we need to add, but just like [Tanner said], that's part of the process."