Education reform commission an opportunity to improve public education

Published 6:24 pm Friday, March 27, 2015

I suspect my recent silence on the subject of public education in Georgia has been deafening to some of you. I will explain.

In January, I was named a member of the Education Reform Commission by Gov. Nathan Deal along with a number of educators, legislators and subject matter experts. There are 33 of us in all.

The commission’s charge from the governor is to take a comprehensive look at the state’s public education system and the 30-year-old Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula and recommend improvements to both. (Ironically, I worked closely with Gov. Joe Frank Harris in the creation of QBE. It’s déjà vu all over again.)

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As for my silence, I wanted to be sure this group would have the autonomy to do what the governor asked of us and not be a high-profile rubber stamp for a preordained conclusion.  At this point, I am cautiously optimistic.

The chair of the commission is former University of Georgia Pres. Charles B. Knapp. There could not be a better choice. Chuck Knapp will do the right thing and do it in the right way.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and a tight timeframe. Most of our recommendations are due to the governor in August; the rest are expected in December.

Much of our work is being done through five separate committees: Funding (of which I am a part); Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Pay; Early Childhood Education; Move on When Ready; and School Choice.

I am going to spare you the details of where we are in our deliberations until we get further down the road. Suffice it to say that we are still early in the process. In the meantime you can follow the work of the commission at: You can also weigh in with your comments.

I read and hear that public school teachers are not adequately represented on the commission. That is not accurate. For one thing, that assumes naysayers have forgotten that I have three public school teachers in my family, am vociferous in my support of public education and that I have one helluva bully pulpit.

More importantly, Pat Williams, Georgia’s 2011 Teacher of the Year from Appling County, who heads the Teacher Recruitment, Retention and Pay Committee, is busy along with her committee, getting input from teachers across the state through group meetings and via sessions with members of the various education groups such as PAGE, GAE and Educators First.

I told Ms. Williams I would ask teachers across the state to let me know if they have ideas or issues they want to share with the committee and that I would pass them along. I can assure you they will be considered. One caveat: I am aware of the problems. Give me some proposed solutions.

Because I am a member of the commission does not mean I am a sure vote on anything. Gov. Deal knows that. But I am also not going to rush to judgment on anything being proposed until I glean all the information I can from our meetings.

One issue that concerns me is that nobody seems to be talking much about parental involvement. To me, that is the elephant in the room. If parents don’t care —– or aren’t around — how do we convince children that their future depends on them getting a good education? Is there some way to hold parents more accountable?

I am also apprehensive as to what role the for-profit charter school management companies may have in this process and how big it might be. We aren’t exactly on each other’s Christmas card list.

And then there are those legislators who don’t seem to know or care what the commission is all about. They are too busy pushing special-interest legislation that would suck even more money out of public education in order to curry favor with deep-pocketed, out-of-state ideologues.  I suggest they put down their Kool-Aid cups and go do something meaningful — like pass a law requiring us all to genuflect when the name Ray Charles is uttered. Who could be against that?

It is much too early to know how things will turn out with the Education Reform Commission. I have no idea how much influence, if any, I will have in the final report. Only one thing is certain: I am going to give it my best shot. I owe that to all the public school teachers in Georgia, including three who are very special to me.