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Tanners bill for failing schools passes committee
Tanner Kevin
District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

NORTH FORSYTH -- Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, updated constituents on the status of his education reform bill for failing schools on Saturday at his bi-weekly breakfast in Dawsonville.

Tanner said the legislation, HB 338, passed the House Education Committee in a unanimous vote on Feb. 24.

The bill attempts to incentivize school systems to cooperate with the state to improve their low-performing schools with the help of student improvement plans implemented by state-funded Chief Turnaround Officers.

The bill will see the House floor on Tuesday for debate and Tanner said he hopes a vote will move the bill forward to the Senate.

Tanner stated on Feb. 25 that HB 338 has the support of House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, who was a strong critic of the Opportunity School District amendment.

“She told me that unless something changed, she was planning on going to the well and speaking in favor of the measure,” Tanner said.

Tanner also stressed a few new clarifications and changes to the bill, which he previously insisted is dissimilar to last year’s Opportunity School District amendment, also known as Amendment One.

One of the changes was to clarify that the Chief Turnaround Officer, or CTO, would work in partnership with the schools and that if after two years the school was still cooperating with the state, the process would continue.

“One thing that was giving people some concern and pause was that after two years, the way the bill read, if there wasn’t progress then the CTO could start directing that certain things occur,” Tanner said. “The intent always was about cooperation because you’re not going to be able to turn a school around in two years that has been low-performing for, in many of these cases, a couple of decades.”

Another issue that Tanner said is further addressed in the new version of the bill is the issue of leadership in the schools that are chronically low-performing.

“One thing I’ve talked to [Gov. Deal] about, and that the governor is on board with, is creating a leadership help mentor and bring along great principals in our state,” Tanner said. “The plan is for that to open July 1, 2018.”

Also new to the legislation is a grant set up through the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to aid struggling schools obtain resources to help students succeed.

“[For example] there are programs that have been shown to be very successful in these type of environments, that go in early in the school experience and help bring students up to read on grade level by the time they’re in third grade, which statistically is so very important...because if you’re not reading on level by third grade, statistically you never catch up,” Tanner said.

The house has also passed a bill, HB 237, which would allow up to a $7 million a year tax credit for private entities donating to public schools, with priority given to low-performing schools.

“You’re not going to see the General Assembly just send a blank check to the schools that are low-performing without some accountability,” Tanner said. “That’s why by putting in a process, doing the assessment and putting in folks that have turned around schools before gives a sense of confidence to the state that we can send those additional resources and that they will be used properly and that we can monitor the results.”

Bette Holland, chair of the Dawson County Democratic Party, said on Monday that though she supported the bill when she initially read it, she has since become concerned.

“After further study of Rep. Tanner’s bill I do have some concerns which I have already contacted him about,” Holland said. “My main concerns are the lack of funding to help these challenged schools and the attempt to take even more power away from the Georgia Department of Education and the elected superintendent by creating the new CTO position. In this bill the CTO would be in the department of education, paid for out of its funds and yet still answer to the governor.”

The update comes as the General Assembly frantically push legislation in anticipation of “Crossover Day” on Friday.

Friday is the last day for all bills from the House to pass in order to move on to the Senate, and the last day for all bills from the Senate to pass to move on to the House. Any bills that do not pass from the chamber where they were introduced will not continue in the legislative process this session.