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Deal wants powers to take over failing schools
Governor proposes 'opportunity school district'
Nathan Deal web
Gov. Nathan Deal

    ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal wants lawmakers to create a state-run district to take over failing schools, overseen by an appointed superintendent with broad new powers over those institutions.
    That's according to a copy of the bill and constitutional amendment provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
    Deal first proposed the idea of an "opportunity school district" in his January inauguration and State of the State addresses, but details were kept largely under wraps until this week.
    Under the proposal, a state district superintendent appointed by the governor would evaluate any schools given an 'F' grade as determined by the Governors' Office of Student Achievement, using student performance on tests and other measures.
    Deal's staff estimates that 141 schools in Georgia — about 6 percent of all statewide — would be eligible based on their scores during the last three years on the state's College and Career Ready Performance Index. Not all could be included. Starting in the 2017 school year, the superintendent could choose up to 20 schools to join the state district each year. The district would be limited to 100 total schools at any time.
    According to a list produced by the governor's office, 27 of the eligible schools are in the Atlanta Public School System and 26 are in DeKalb County in metro Atlanta. Schools in rural districts also are represented.
    Deal has cited Louisiana's use of a recovery district, especially within the New Orleans public schools following Hurricane Katrina. States including Indiana and Tennessee have created similar models more recently. Lawmakers heard from representatives of several states during a hearing on Wednesday, where members of both parties signaled some concern with the idea.
    To pass the constitutional amendment, Deal must win the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in the House and Senate, followed by voters' approval in a 2016 statewide ballot.
    "Educational opportunity opens the door to the American dream," Deal said in a written statement. "We can't guarantee that every child will achieve, but we must do everything in our power to make sure they at least get the chance."
    Democrats have argued that the state's recent cuts to education spending could be responsible for some struggling schools.
    The proposal gives the new superintendent several options to turn around performance: partially or fully taking over operations of a struggling school, applying to the state charter commission for permission to become a charter or closing schools that are below full enrollment.
    Lawmakers could budget additional money for schools in the state district, and the district could seek more in private donations. State funding would remain the same, and schools in the district still would receive a per-pupil share of local money. But the state district could withhold up to 3 percent funding from its schools for administrative costs.
    The superintendent could waive many state rules and select new school leaders, who would make staffing decisions. Each school in the state-run district also would have a governing board.
    Schools would have to remain under the state district's supervision for at least five years — but no more than 10 years. Schools converted to charters would have to reapply for a renewal from a state commission; others would develop a transition plan to resume a school board's supervision.

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