10/16/14 EVENT: Hope for Failing Schools


Imagine taking schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of all schools in a district, where reading proficiency is 22 percent and math proficiency is less than 3 percent (no, that’s not a typo!), and doubling and tripling those numbers in just two years time.

That would be an amazing accomplishment measured by any standard.

Well, despite sounding impossible, these are the results that Matchbook Learning has achieved in one of the toughest places in the country – Detroit.

And you don’t have to take my word for it.

Sajan George, Founder and CEO of Matchbook Learning will be our guest speaker at our October 16th innovation luncheon. George will be discussing Matchbook’s work in Detroit and how the right use of technology, coupled with creative ways to empower and inspire students and teachers, can set the stage for dramatic turnarounds for failing schools and, more importantly, greater success for students.

Please join us.

Register to Attend

New GCO report outlines solutions for Georgia’s individual low-income uninsured population

Nearly one in five Georgians lacks health insurance, the 6th highest rate in the country. Among those without insurance are an estimated 534,000 adults living at or below 100% of the federal poverty line.

Given the significant need for increased access to healthcare, Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, and expansion’s long-term unsustainability, it is imperative that viable alternatives for providing healthcare to this portion of the population are identified and implemented.

Today, Georgia Center for Opportunity released a report that adds new ideas and solutions to many of the state’s healthcare challenges. The report, titled Increasing Access to Quality Healthcare for Low-Income Uninsured Georgians, outlines challenges to Georgia’s healthcare system and recommends several policies to start addressing the problems.

The report’s key recommendations include:

  • Providing state government support for Georgia’s charity clinics
  • Expanding telemedicine
  • Modernizing nurse practitioner laws and regulations
  • Reinstating the state sales tax exemption for charity clinics
  • Replacing lost federal funding for safety-net hospitals

Implementation of these policies offers a strong foundation for expanding care to individuals in need and will ensure that more Georgians have access to affordable healthcare, leading to better outcomes for individuals and reducing the cost of uncompensated care.

Over the next few weeks, we will post a series of blogs that highlight different sections of the report including an overview of the state’s uninsured population and healthcare safety-net, an analysis of many of the state’s healthcare challenges, and an in-depth look at the recommended policies.

View the full report here: Increasing Access to Quality Healthcare for Low-Income Uninsured Georgians,

Brown v. Board of Education at 60: School Choice New Frontier of Opportunity


A little over a week ago, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at Georgia Gwinnett College to a group of students, including some future educators, students from the school’s honors program, and a few professors, who had been reading about the impact of school choice in America and in other parts of the world.

In my remarks, I noted that Brown was successful in eliminating official, legal enforcement of segregation and paved the way for integrated schools and gains in minority student achievement. Today, we don’t find government officials claiming a legal right to physically block a child’s entrance to a school because of his or her race. By that measure, Brown hit its mark.

Instead, in 2014, what we witness is a very different kind of school segregation driven largely by the zip code in which a child lives, which is largely a function of income.

Today, children are not so much being locked out of schools they would like to attend, as much as they are being locked into schools they wouldn’t choose if given an option.

This is especially true for lower and middle-income families who likely do not earn enough to move to a district with great schools or afford the cost of private tuition.

This is where school choice is able to help.

Given control over their education dollars (over $9,000 per year per student on average in Georgia), parents and their children would have the ability to select the school best suited for their needs, whether public, private, virtual or otherwise. Since each family would be given, essentially, the same base level of purchasing power, segregation based on income (enforced now by our zip code system) would be much less of a barrier.

For areas of the state, especially in more rural communities, where the local public school may be the only option right now, giving parents control of those education dollars would likely mean entrepreneurs would soon find ways to make additional options available, as each class of students (assuming an average of 23 children) would bring with them over $200,000 of funding each year. You can pay a teacher very well and buy a lot of materials with that kind of money.

Americans value choice in all areas of life and instinctively understand that the choices we make with our money drive improvements in the products we buy, whether the product is the food we eat, the houses we live in, or the cars we drive. The same thing could be true relative to the education our children receive.

The system will improve if we are allowed to vote with our wallets. It most likely will not until then.

For more reading on the power of school choice and creative ways communities are making it possible (in the US and abroad), I highly recommend the books that the students at GGC read this year:

Education Freedom In Urban America: Brown Vs. Board after Half a Century

By: David Salisbury and Casey Lartigue Jr.

The Beautiful Tree

By: James Tooled

Market Education: The Unknown History

By: Andrew J. Coulson

Why America Needs School Choice

By: Jay P. Greene

Lamenting Missed Opportunities for Georgia Students

In the wake of the recently concluded legislative session, I found myself at a local charter school discussing school choice with a group of parents, teachers, and administrators.

While upbeat in many ways, the conversation was heavy with a feeling of barely-restrained desperation. It was in the air and occasionally expressed by a frown, joined with a shake of the head.


The school’s staff explained the wonderful academic success of their students, nearly all minorities and all female, despite the statistical odds stacked against this school and others like it. At the same time they lamented how the treatment of charter schools in Georgia, which are public schools open to all students, results in their receiving much less funding per student than traditional public schools and forcing them to bear substantial additional costs.

Fewer dollars and higher costs mean that charters often must forego offering classes that are taken for granted in most public schools. Fewer dollars and higher costs mean students go without other, seemingly normal, parts of school life, like a playground, a sports field, recreation equipment, etc.

How much less funding? By my calculation, it amounts to nearly 20 percent less per student per year for state-approved charter schools. It’s that much less, yet charters – by definition – are held to a higher standard of academic achievement than traditional public schools. Unlike traditional public schools that linger forever regardless of their instructional performance or the academic success of their students, charter schools actually close for failure to meet targets. Despite the disparity in how they’re treated, charters typically perform well.

What about those additional costs? The big one for charters is the cost of renting or buying a school building, a cost that traditional public schools do not have to shoulder that can run into the many tens of thousands of dollars each month. Behind teacher pay, this is one of a charter school’s largest expenses.

For the parents in the room who were all unsatisfied with their local, traditional public schools, the issue was a lack of real alternatives. While Georgia can boast that it has some educational options, including charter schools and some private school scholarship programs, the reality is that those options are unavailable to most families.

Why? The answer is that charter schools are not present in every community and those in operation only have enough seats available for a small percentage of the state’s 1.8 million students. In a similar fashion, private school scholarships are severely limited by funding caps (this year, the cap on the tax credit scholarship was reached in the first 22 days of the year) or, by design, target only a very small group of students. The result is that waiting lists for these schools and programs often far exceed the actual number of students they are able to serve.

So what does this have to do with the legislative session, you might ask?

Well, if you were to just look at legislation that actually passed this session, you would be right to conclude that our legislature has little to do with or concern for the school choice needs of families in Georgia. You’d likely conclude that because, quite literally, nothing much happened to expand choice or to right the inequities in current education choice programs.

Now, if you followed the session from the beginning and paid close attention, you would know that the legislature had the opportunity to make serious strides in reforming the system and expanding choice, including adding more scholarships for private choice, allowing charter schools to use vacant public school buildings, and allowing charter schools to quickly replicate without unnecessary bureaucratic hoop-jumping, among others.

Yet, each opportunity ultimately withered on the vine. The unusually intense power struggle between house and senate Republicans, coupled with the active efforts of at least one committee chairman to kill school choice legislation, meant that nothing very meaningful survived to see the Governor’s pen.

So the children who desperately need a lifeline tossed to them are left to flounder another year in a system they didn’t choose and can’t leave. The powers-that-be and the protectors of the status quo win another round.

Who knew a prison could be so effectively

erected using only a zip code?

Some say that reform was mostly stopped this year because of election year politics; and we hear from some elected officials that next year will be different. After all, they say, we can’t do anything controversial in an election year; we can’t afford to anger the wrong constituency.

But wait, bills related to gun rights and abortion were hardly uncontroversial, yet they passed. Favors were called in and political capital was spent to insure their success. So being “controversial” couldn’t be the excuse….right?

Could it be, instead, that the parents of children most in need of rescue from failing schools vote neither often enough to warrant the risk, nor in the “right” way when they do? A skeptic – this skeptic – might answer “yes.” It’s difficult to come to any other conclusion. Of course, it doesn’t help that these same families are not typically campaign donors either.

It takes real courage to stand up to entrenched thinking in public education and I’m thankful for those few, brave elected officials who have done so, because they are truly standing up for our children. They recognize that few things in life offer an escape from poverty and a path to self-sufficiency as effectively as a quality education. But, what’s more, they understand that elections, holding office, and wielding power are not simply ends in themselves.

Here’s to hoping they receive reinforcements very soon because the children of Georgia can’t afford to continue to wait.

Capitol Update – Crossover Day Results


Should you have questions or comments about the content of this update, please email Brian Abernathy

Monday, March 3, marked “Crossover Day” at the Georgia State Capitol. On this day, a bill must crossover from the House to the Senate or vice-versa if it is to remain viable this session. Crossover Day typically goes until midnight and involves lots of lobbying, drama, and intensive floor debates. While the Senate finished their work early this year, the House stayed in session until 11:30. Below is a summary of some of the more newsworthy bills and their fate*:

*Please note that vote totals are indicated after the bill number. The first number is the total votes cast in favor of a bill (Y=yea), the second is the total votes cast against a bill (N=nay).

House Bills That Passed Crossover Day:

  • HB 702: 138Y – 37N – This bill allows for privately funded monuments containing the Ten Commandments, a portion of the Declaration of Independence, and a portion of the Georgia Constitution to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol.


  • HB 707: 115Y – 59N – This bill prevents the State Insurance Commissioner from enforcing provisions in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), local and state agencies and governments from spending money attached to the ACA, and prevents the University of Georgia from operating the navigator program that assists people who are seeking coverage under the ACA.


  • HB 766: 163Y – 1N – The “Work Based Learning” Act would permit schools – in collaboration with the Department of Labor and the Technical College System of Georgia – to award secondary credit for approved off campus work to students age 16 and over.


  • HB 772: 107Y – 66N – This bill requires that adult applicants for and recipients of food stamps or benefits under TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) submit to drug testing if a state caseworker from the Department of Family and Children Services determines that there is a “reasonable suspicion” of drug abuse. Eligibility of children under both programs is not affected by this legislation.


  • HB 875: 119Y – 56N – This bill allows land owners/lessees the final decision as to whether properly licensed citizens may carry concealed firearms on their premises, potentially significantly expanding the places a licensed individual could carry a firearm to include churches, bars, and certain government buildings where security is not provided. It also allows for school boards to designate a school employee to be armed.


  • HB 885: 171Y – 4N – This bill allows for the usage of medical cannabis derivatives for the treatment of patients who suffer from severe seizure disorders and encourages research on additional medical uses of cannabis.


  • HB 886: 164Y – 3N – This bill would require the governing body of Charter Schools to hold a minimum of two public hearings to review their budget before its adoption each year.



  • HB 990: 118Y – 57N – This bill would require legislative approval for any future expansion of Medicaid in Georgia.


  • HB 1080: 173Y – 3N – This bill would allow for the placement of a privately funded monument dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to be placed on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Senate Bills That Passed Crossover Day:

  • SB 98: 35Y – 18N – Prevents coverage for abortions under qualified health plans offered within the state, including any exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.


  • SB 167: 34Y – 16N – This bill calls for the creation of an advisory council to review Common Core Standards and propose changes that are “in the best interest of students, their parents, teachers, and taxpayers.”


  • SB 281: 40Y – 13N – This bill mandates that state employees and teachers be offered a high-deductible insurance option in the State Health Benefit Plan.


  • SB 350: 31Y – 18N – This bill would begin a process of privatizing child welfare services through contracts with community-based providers.


  • SB 365: 53Y – 0N – This bill focuses on lowering barriers to employment for those returning from prison.  The legislation contains many of the recommendations from our Prisoner Reentry Working Group.


  • SR 783: 38Y – 13N – This resolution allows voters the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to eliminate the state property tax levy through an amendment to the state constitution.

Bills That Did Not Crossover:


  • SB 404: This bill would deny the ability of non-legal immigrants who have been granted “deferred action” status or permission to temporarily work for humanitarian reasons the ability to receive a Georgia Driver’s License.


  • HB 759: As GCO has already discussed, the Tax Credit Scholarship program in Georgia is in high demand.  HB 759 would have increased the tax-credit cap to $100 million.


  • SB 191 & HB 309 – Neither form of “Ava’s Law”, which would have required medical insurance coverage for treatment of Autism, made it through crossover day.


  • HB 524 – This bill would have made it easier for adopted individuals to access their original birth certificates and the information about birth parents they contain.

Bills that are continuing to fight for implementation:

  • HB 771 never saw a vote on the House Floor, but supporters are still working see its efforts attached to another piece of legislation this year.  The bill would lift the statute of limitations related to civil damages brought by victims of childhood sexual abuse.


  • Senate Resolution 7 would provide Georgians with an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment to separate the Georgia Ethics Commission from the office of the Governor.


  • House Resolution 486 would permit local municipalities created after 2005 to form city school systems.

____________________________ Thanks to Eric Cochling, our VP of Policy Advancement, Jamie Lord, our director of government affairs, and Jacob Stubbs, our legislative intern and John Jay Fellowship alumnus for their able contributions to this update.