Otha Thornton: Georgia governor schemes takeover of Black schools (pt. 1)

Otha Thornton, National Education Advocate and former President of National OTA (Photo Source: Otha Thornton)
Otha Thornton, National Education Advocate and former President of National OTA (Photo courtesy of Otha Thornton)

A controversial measure to take over failing schools in the state of Georgia will have a disproportionate impact on Black students in the state. The measure called the Opportunity School District is on the November ballot as a referendum with very innocuous wording. It simply states:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?”

Voters must respond with a simple yes or no but the underlying issue is very serious and few understand the impact it will have on Georgia schools.

Rolling out spoke with education advocate Otha Thornton, the immediate past national PTA president who has served on the Georgia PTA Board from 2010-2015.

Why is the Opportunity School District wording on the ballot misleading?
This is the language that you will see on your ballot when you vote during the November general election or advance voting. The language in this ballot initiative is intentionally very deceptive and misleading. VOTE NO. You have the power to ensure that all of our state’s children and school systems are not defrauded of resources based upon a legal fleecing that has not worked in New Orleans, Michigan, Ohio, and other states around our country. The waste, fraud, abuse, and future litigation that the Opportunity School District (OSD) will create will make it easier to continue to siphon our taxpayers’ dollars out of Georgia’s public school system. If this ballot initiative passes, you will be agreeing to be taxed without representation, giving up local control to the state of Georgia if your school fails to meet subjective standards set by the state, and giving unlimited power to the state to take over school properties in your local school districts.

What will this plan allow the Georgia governor to do?

Governor Nathan Deal (Verified account Twitter @GovernorDeal)
Governor Nathan Deal (Verified account Twitter @GovernorDeal)

The state will take over the failing school and the governor will be allowed to make critical changes directly. The governor will appoint a school board and advisers only answerable to his office. This means that parents of students will have no determination in the future outcome and operations of the school. These failing schools are in the  metropolitan Atlanta area with counties that include Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett and also the city of Savannah. At least 159 of these schools are predominantly Black. The measure will also allow a 3 percent school tax increase to taxpayers to fund the school take over by the governor. A complete new tax revenue plan that is operated directly by the governor.

What is the purpose of the OSD referendum?
The unspoken purpose and intent of the Opportunity School District is to privatize our state’s public school systems.  The Georgia Constitution in Article VIII (Education Code)Paragraph I. reads:Public education; free public education prior to college or postsecondary level; support by taxation. The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or post-secondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation. The Georgia Assembly from January 2003 to present has underfunded public schools every year by cutting a cumulative $8.8 billion dollars from its Quality Basic Education formula. (Source: 2016 Georgia Budget and Policy Institute Primer).  Georgia’s rankings for well-being is 43nd in the nation and 49th and 51st on 4th and 8th grade reading and math scores.

What will be the impact of the OSD?
The Opportunity School District will have a disproportionate and disenfranchising impact on school districts with minority student populations and voters -Albany, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, DeKalb, Fulton, etc. (U.S. Census Report and Opportunity School District- Eligible Schools List

How is the state of Georgia pushing this measure forward?
Leading up to the election in November, voters will be targeted and bombarded with millions of dollars of pro Opportunity School District commercials featuring children of color, elected officials, and ministers from the African-American community. These knowing and unknowing participants are working for financial gain and demonstrate a lack of understanding of the impact on children and communities most impacted.

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