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GAE head: Flexibility an excuse
Chapman says exemptions helping to undermine funding for public schools
W Sid Chapman GAE President
During a visit to the Statesboro Herald Friday, Georgia Association of Educators President Dr. Sid Chapman said "flexibility is an excuse to continue underfunding public schools. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

“Flexibility options” that exempt school systems from class-size limits, teacher pay scales and teacher certification requirements are generally not a good thing, Georgia Association of Educators President Dr. Sid Chapman told the Statesboro Herald.
Chapman, president since July of National Education Association state affiliate, visited Statesboro Friday while traveling to publicize the GAE’s positions on issues and its support of certain candidates in Tuesday’s election.
“Absolutely,” Chapman said, when asked if he meant that the flexibility options are really aimed at spending less money on education. “You can take Title 20 and everything that we have stood for and worked for in the last 30, 40 years, the strike of a pen and it’s gone, with all of those different options. You can hire fewer teachers.”
In Georgia’s law code, Title 20 is the volume that governs education. Chapman had also said the waivers available under the flexibility options amount to throwing away “things like class size …, certified teachers …, the state salary schedule, fair dismissal rights.”
He called this a “hidden agenda” behind the options.
“Our opponents of public education would like nothing better that to do away with those things,” Chapman said.
Georgia school districts have until June 30 to choose either of two options that could grant waivers from some of these rules. But school systems will have to request specific waivers as part of a plan for school improvement and obtain the state Board of Education’s approval.
One option is to become a charter system, with each school setting its own goals for improvement and determining how to achieve them. The other, called “Investing in Educational Excellence,” or IE2, uses districtwide goals, but also allows waivers to state rules.
School districts may choose neither option and remain “status quo,” but then the waivers will no longer be available. If the Bulloch County Board of Education did that, it would have to hire more teachers, after reducing its workforce and obtaining class-size waivers the past several years.
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson recently recommended the IE2 path, and board members are expected to vote at their next meeting. Wilson believes the flexibility options can provide relief from “constraints that have … piled up upon public education” for schools to improve under local governance, he has said.
GAE realizes the financial pressures local systems are under, Chapman said.
“Of course, we understand that there’s been an economic crunch and property taxes and values have gone down and it makes it harder, but when the state’s not putting any of that money in and then there’s less money from the federal government …. It’s a struggle,” he said.

‘Toxic testing’
The GAE has also been expressing resistance to what it sees as a state and national overemphasis on standardized testing.
“We call it toxic testing,” Chapman said. “There’s just so much of it. Kids get sick of it, teachers get sick of it. It’s a business because all of these companies peddle these tests and convince somebody that that’s what they need.”
He said the situation is worse in the lower grades and that as soon as schools get used to one test, the state changes to another, such as in the change this year from the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests to Georgia Milestones.
“We need some stability,” Chapman said. “We’ve just had so many changes and trying something new, and we’re still at the bottom.”
He added that the state is seeing some improvement in graduation rates and that SAT scores have improved for certain categories of students.
But the importance placed on testing now extends to making teachers responsible for their students scores through Georgia’s Teacher Keys Effectiveness System.
The new system ties 50 percent of teachers’ effectiveness evaluations to student performance on tests, Chapman noted. He observed that media specialists and physical education, art and music teachers are all teachers but do not teach subjects that are on the standardized tests, so they have to be evaluated differently.
“Having test scores as 50 percent is just not equitable any way you look at it, and then it leads to corruption, as we’ve seen in Atlanta and Albany and some of these other places because you have the pressure put on principals for their school to perform, and then they put pressure on the teachers,” Chapman said.
The GAE’s stance is to support effective testing as a tool for teaching, but not to label and punish, he had said in a news release on the subject.
The teachers’ organization is also pushing for Georgia to retain the Common Core State Standards.
“There are pros and cons with it,” Chapman said. “I’ve talked to teachers, our members. Some love it, some hate it, but the way we see it, it has been implemented and we’d like to see something stable for a while.”

GAE endorsements
The GAE endorses three statewide Democratic Party candidates: Jason Carter for governor, Michelle Nunn for U.S. senator, and Valarie Wilson for state school superintendent. However, the organization has also endorsed Republicans in legislative races, including, for example, Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, who chairs the Education Committee in the Georgia House.
“We’re stumping for our candidates as much as we can to get out our message as much as we can that we do prefer certain people to be in office that are public education friendly,” Chapman said.
GAE leaders at first intended not to endorse a candidate for governor, but decided to back Carter after talking to him.
“Hopefully, he won’t do to us what’s been done to us,” Chapman said. “We’ve had over $8 billion cut out of public education over the last decade, and $4.4 billion since Mr. Deal has been in office.”
With improving revenues this year, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, who is running for a second term, led in a decision to restore $540 million in funding to the schools, but Chapman said, “that doesn’t really make up in an election year.”
GAE has 35,000 to 42,000 members, with the number fluctuating, Chapman said. More than 200 of those members are in Bulloch County, said Joe Bell, a GAE area staff member, called a UniServ director, who accompanied Chapman.
Meanwhile, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, or PAGE, not affiliated with any national organization, self-reports a membership of 84,000.
PAGE does not endorse candidates but instead hosted a candidate forum and posted the video on its website.
“One of our founding principles is, we don’t endorse, but we do inform,” PAGE Communications Director Tim Callahan said by phone.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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