Proposed Georgia Legislation Impacting
Proposed legislation before the Georgia General Assembly amends the consequences for schools and their school districts that receive unacceptable ratings on the single state-wide accountability system. An unacceptable rating is a rating pursuant to the single state-wide accountability system of one or more standard deviations below the state average.
The bill allows for the removal of members of a local board of education where two-thirds of the schools in the local school system receive unacceptable ratings for six consecutive years.
The bill also provides for graduated consequences when individual schools receive unacceptable ratings. These consequences will apply to school districts that have contracted with the State Board of Education (the "State Board") for increased flexibility from state laws in exchange for increased accountability. The bill also provides that the charters for charter systems shall include these consequences.
As a part of these consequences, the bill creates a scholarship for students that attend schools that receive unacceptable ratings for six consecutive years. The scholarship offsets the cost of enrollment in private schools for these students. The funds for the scholarship come from the State QBE allotments that would otherwise go to the local school district.
Finally, the legislation creates the Joint Study Committee on External Factors Impacting Student Achievement.
Removal of Board Members When Two-Thirds of Schools in District Receive Unacceptable Ratings
Under the proposed legislation, the State Department of Education (the "Department") shall notify the State Board that two-thirds or more of the schools in a local school system received an unacceptable rating for the sixth consecutive year. The State Board will conduct a hearing and recommend to the Governor whether to suspend all eligible members of the local board of education. This ground for suspension applies to local school systems where two-thirds or more of its schools received unacceptable ratings in the sixth consecutive year on or after July 1, 2017.
After the State Board makes its recommendation, the Governor may then suspend all eligible members of the local board of education with pay. The Governor will appoint temporary replacement members qualified to serve as members of the local board of education. Suspended board members may petition the Governor for reinstatement. If no petition is made, then the suspension is converted to permanent removal.
Upon petition for reinstatement, the Governor will determine whether the local board member's continued service is "more likely than not" to correct the circumstances giving rise to the suspension. If this standard is met, the suspended local board member shall be immediately reinstated. Otherwise, the petitioning member will be permanently removed.
Graduated Consequences for Schools that Receive an Unacceptable Rating
When an individual school receives an unacceptable rating, the consequences to the school and local district depend on the number of consecutive years the school received the unacceptable rating.
- Unacceptable rating for one year: the Department will conduct an on-site evaluation of the school to determine the cause of low performance.
- Unacceptable rating for two consecutive years: the Department will help develop an intensive school improvement plan by recommending certain actions. These recommendations may include, among other things, the reallocation of resources, changes in operations, intervention for individual administrators and teachers, adoption of policies and practices, and waivers from state laws.
- Unacceptable rating for three consecutive years: Taking into consideration the recommendations of the State School Superintendent, the State Board will direct the local board of education to (1) appoint a school master or management team to oversee and direct the school's principal; and (2) develop and implement with the Department an intensive school improvement plan. The Department will approve and monitor the improvement plan.
- Unacceptable rating for four consecutive years: Taking into consideration the recommendations of the State School Superintendent, the State Board will direct the local board of education to implement one or more of the following sanctions or interventions: (1) removing personnel on recommendation of the school master or management team; (2) allowing the implementation of a state charter school; (3) reconstituting the school, removing all personnel, and hiring new staff; (4) allowing parents to relocate students to another public school in the local school system that does not have an unacceptable rating; (5) continuing the improvement plan previously created by the Department and the local school system; or (6) restructuring the school's governance arrangement and internal organization.
- Unacceptable rating for five consecutive years: Taking into consideration the recommendations of the State School Superintendent, the State Board shall impose (or continue to impose) the sanctions for maintaining an unacceptable rating for four consecutive years or allow the school to be operated by a (1) successful school system or (2) private nonprofit entity. The State Board may also impose other restrictions it deems appropriate.
- Unacceptable rating for six consecutive years: Taking into consideration the recommendations of the State School Superintendent, the State Board may impose or continue to impose the restrictions for maintaining an unacceptable rating for four or five consecutive years. The State Board will also mandate that parents may: (1) relocate a student to another public school in the local school system with available space and without an unacceptable rating; (2) enroll the student in and transport the student to a public school outside of the student's resident school system with available space and without an unacceptable rating; and (3) request and receive a scholarship from the Department to enroll the student in a private school (the "K-12 Student Scholarship").
Charters for charter systems must provide for these consequences. The consequences apply to contracts between the local school board and the State Board for increased flexibility from state laws in exchange for increased accountability. The consequences section of the flexibility contract shall include these sanctions.
The proposed legislation grants two procedural rights to local boards subject to these consequences. First, the local board of education may review and correct, explain, and supplement the data used to impose interventions on a school that received an unacceptable rating for three to four consecutive years. Second, the local board of education may request an opportunity for hearing before the State Board before the imposition of sanctions on schools that received unacceptable ratings for five or six consecutive years. At the hearing, the local board must show why an intervention imposed by the State Board should not be required.
The K-12 Student Scholarship
The creation of the K-12 Student Scholarship can be seen as a move towards a voucher system. Students qualify for the K-12 Student Scholarship if:
- The student's assigned school received an unacceptable rating for six or more consecutive years;
- The student spent the previous year at a Georgia public school, unless the student is eligible for enrollment in kindergarten for the first time or the student's parent was stationed in Georgia on active duty military service in the previous year;
- The parent obtains acceptance for admission to a participating school by May 1 of the year following the assigned public school's sixth consecutive unacceptable rating; and
- The parent applies for the scholarship no later than May 1 of the year following the assigned public school's sixth consecutive unacceptable rating.
The scholarship remains in effect until the student returns to his or her assigned school, the student withdraws from a participating school, the student transfers from a participating school to another private school, the student's assigned school is removed from its unacceptable rating status for three consecutive years, the student matriculates to a school in the resident system without an unacceptable rating, the student graduates or reaches the age of 20, or the student moves residency to an assigned school without an unacceptable rating.
Upon acceptance of the scholarship, the parent assumes full financial responsibility for the education of the student. The maximum amount of the scholarship is the amount the State would have provided to the resident school system under the Quality Basic Education Formula. The amount does not include any federal or local funds. The amount needed to provide a scholarship will be subtracted from the allotment payable to the student's resident school system.
Private schools must submit an application to the Department by May 1 of the school year preceding the school year in which it intends to enroll scholarship students. To enroll a student receiving a K-12 Student Scholarship, a school must:
- Have a physical location in Georgia where the scholarship student attends classes;
- Demonstrate fiscal soundness by having been in operation for one school year or submitting financial information that complies with the uniform financial accounting standards established by the Department;
- Comply with the anti-discrimination practices of 42 U.S.C. § 2000d;
- Comply with all health and safety laws applicable to private schools;
- Comply with all provisions of O.C.G.A. § 20-2-690 and any other state law applicable to private schools;
- Regularly report to parents and the Department the student's progress; and
- Employ teachers with at least a bachelor's degree or three years of experience in education and annually provide teachers' credentials to parents.
The legislation provides that no liability shall arise on the part of a local board of education based on the award or use of a K-12 Student Scholarship.
The Joint Study Committee on External Factors Impacting Student Achievement
The legislation creates the Joint Study Committee on External Factors Impacting Student Achievement, which will exist through December 31, 2018. The committee will review external factors impacting low-performing schools, such as poverty, safety, and transportation. The committee may issue a report or recommendation with suggested legislation based on its findings.
If we may provide additional assistance with respect to the proposed legislation impacting failing schools and their school districts, please let us know.
The articles published in this newsletter are intended only to provide general information on the subjects covered. The contents should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Readers should consult with legal counsel to obtain specific legal advice based on particular situations.