When Republicans took over the Georgia Governor's Mansion and the Legislature, everyone expected changes. The losers feared those changes; the winners welcomed them. That's politics.
Unfortunately, reality isn't quite so simple. As a result, Georgia's public education system is facing what could be a severe beating during this legislative session, and it's coming with the same top-down perspective that Republicans rightly criticized in their Democratic predecessors.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Two issues are especially troublesome. First is Senate Bill 390, which passed recently in the Senate. It requires a minimum of 65 percent of education spending go to "the classroom."
Sounds appealing, doesn't it? But who decides what is in "the classroom"? The Legislature says it's not school buses. It's not libraries. Not school nurses. Not custodians. The bill prohibits these vital positions, and many other sensible expenditures, from being considered part of a school system's classroom budget.
For the record, Columbia County already spends more than 67 percent on what this bill considers "the classroom," so our community is off the hook. This bill is bad on principle (and on assistant principals - those aren't appropriate expenditures, either).
Equally nonsensical, and unfortunately sponsored by our own state Rep. Sue Burmeister, is House Bill 661. This bill requires students to get parental permission before they are allowed to participate in school clubs.
Contrary to what its supporters claim, the bill doesn't improve communication between parents and students; it simply adds another state-centralized bureaucratic burden to school systems.
Both bills are bad. But a key common factor is that any school board in Georgia has the authority, on its own, to spend any percentage of funds in "the classroom," and to require parental consent for club participation. Local elected officials can make such decisions on their own.
It is downright offensive for the Georgia Legislature, especially under Republican control, to take a father-knows-best attitude that strips such decision-making authority from local systems - especially successful systems such as Columbia County.
If Republicans want a fundamental change in public education, they need to be bold enough to take their case to the citizens of Georgia. If they believe the public education system ought to be declared a failure, shoved in the trash and remade, then they should make their case.
These bills strip authority from local elected officials and give it to state bureaucrats. That might make funny bumper stickers and appealing election-year sound-bites, but it will not improve public education.
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