Parents, educators, employers and taxpayers are eagerly awaiting what Gov. Nathan Deal is going to propose for improving chronically substandard schools. The wait was only extended Wednesday when he offered no specifics in his State of the State Address in which he normally unveils his major legislative initiatives.
We hope the wait is not much longer.
Deal has essentially devoted his second term to education reform after a first four-year term focused mainly on criminal-justice reform. Last year he pushed a proposal for the state to take over failing schools, but voters rejected it. He had planned then to also produce an update to the state’s formula for funding public education but punted instead to this year.
So, now we have these two major issues hanging over the 40-day legislative session that started Monday, funding and failing schools. The governor needs to act on both quickly in order to give legislators and their constituents time to digest his recommendations.
The repeated failure of schools is a troubling issue for all of us. Two years ago, he identified 127 of them across the state. Wednesday, he said the number had grown to 153 with 89,000 students enrolled, or rather, trapped.
“It should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, that this is unacceptable,” he said. “If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year.”
Seven out of every 10 schools on his list are elementary schools, where students are supposed to gain basic skills they need for the rest of their academic careers. It’s not that these students overcome this lack in middle school and high school. Instead, as they move on to bigger schools at higher levels, their numbers are diluted by more proficient students. The students coming out of the weak schools continue to be handicapped.
We weren’t enthusiastic about the constitutional amendment Deal pushed to allow a state takeover of these struggling schools, but we supported it out of necessity. Voter rejection doesn’t obviate that necessity.