The State Board of Education (SBOE) approved new English Language Arts standards for public review in anticipation of final approval of the standards at the board's December meeting. The board welcomed Supreme Court of Georgia Justice Charlie Bethel to provide opening comments for the meeting.
The next SBOE meetings are scheduled for Dec. 7 and 8.
Work Session Meetings on Alternative High Schools and Student Assessment Pilot
After brief regularly scheduled committee meetings, the SBOE held special work sessions to discuss alternative high schools and student assessments but took no formal action on either item.
Alternative High School Academic Accountability & Funding Debate
House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) addressed the board and advocated to significantly reduce funding for several alternative schools. Mountain Education Charter High School, Foothills Education Charter High School and Coastal Plains Education Charter High School help at-risk and nontraditional students complete high school. Jones reported that she was the author of a state constitutional amendment that created the schools. However, she characterized the current alternative model as a “dreadful incentive” for traditional public schools to target students at risk of dropping out, pushing the students into alternative schools and thus increasing local district graduation rates. Jones mentioned that the three schools are governed by boards comprised in large part of superintendents from participating school districts, and she criticized the superintendents for off-loading responsibility and accountability for at-risk students. The current alternative high school model is “fatally flawed,” and if local school systems value their services, then local superintendents should pay for them, Jones said. She estimated expenditure on the schools at around $43 million and criticized GaDOE for allegedly failing to closely monitor the three schools. Jones reported that neither she nor the chair of the House Education Committee had heard from participating superintendents who support the alternative schools and characterized superintendents’ silence as “deafening.”
Jones’ comments did not appear to be embraced by SBOE members. One member took issue with her characterization of alternative high schools as pushing out students at risk of dropping out and countered that many participating students dropped out before enrolling in alternative schools, as reflected in participating districts’ graduation rates. Jones responded that the board member’s assertion was incorrect. Another member pressed the Speaker Pro-Tempore for more specific policy solutions to address Jones’ concerns. Jones responded that local school districts should provide the solutions.
Mike Royal, a board member with a close family member who was successfully served in one of the alternative schools said he rejected Jones’ characterization of the schools as a “dumping ground,” but conceded reserve balances at the schools are too high. Royal suggested the state make funding changes without undermining the effectiveness of the schools.
As board discussion drew to a close, a veteran educator serving on the SBOE said he believes Georgia needs more alternative charter schools, not fewer of them.
Student Assessment Pilot Viability Discussion
Board members also engaged in a brief discussion of Georgia’s ongoing Innovative Student Assessment Pilot. Several questioned why there appears to be growing local district frustration and insufficient financial support for the program. Board members wondered aloud whether the pilot is viable and whether participating assessment consortia have a chance at success. “If we’re going to double test students…we want to do that with a goal in mind,” board member Stan DeJarnett said.
Rulemaking Process Begins to Update Student Attendance Rule
The Board also began the process of amending State Board Rule 160-5-1-.10, related to student attendance, to comply with the passage of HB 1292 by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) in the 2022 legislative session. HB 1292 prohibits school districts from counting students as absent when participating in school-sponsored 4-H programs.
SBOE By-Law Update
The board approved an update to its by-laws that will allow for board meetings to be held in different locations across the state. The updated by-laws now go through a 30-day public comment period before final approval in December.