Governor Deal Editorial: Plan is Here to Rescue Children From Failing Schools

Nathan Deal

Friday, March 20th, 2015

In my first term, we passed new laws that brought a smarter approach to our criminal justice system. In my second term, I’m seeking a smarter approach to how we help turn around failing schools.

These reforms are interrelated. We know that 70 percent of our prison population doesn’t possess a high school diploma or GED. We also know that a child who can’t read on grade level by third grade is four times more likely to drop out of school.

In both corrections and in education, Georgia and other states have spent millions on systems that get bad results.

Before our criminal justice reforms, we’d spend $19,000 a year to keep a nonviolent offender in prison only to see him come out a hardened criminal. One-third of inmates eventually returned to prison. Now, for offenders whose underlying problem is addiction or mental illness, alternative courts provide second chances, the hope of rehabilitation and a reduction in recidivism.

It’s the same in failing schools. We throw money into a broken system that keeps the cycle of poverty spinning. Children who fall behind in elementary and middle school become high school dropouts with no job skills and little hope of gainful employment. Many turn to crime as a means of survival.

Our criminal justice reforms are already paying dividends. We’ve eliminated the backlog of state prisoners held in county jails and we’ve significantly reduced the percentage of nonviolent offenders entering the corrections system. We’re saving lives and tax dollars at the same time.

I believe the same mentality can work when it comes to failing schools. We have both a moral duty and a self-serving interest in rescuing these children. Every child should have a fair shot at doing better than their parents before them, and we as a society benefit if more Georgians have the education and job skills needed to attract high-paying jobs.

This year, I’m working with the General Assembly to let voters decide if they want to create an Opportunity School District. The district would include schools that have received a failing grade for three straight years.

We’ll take a highly targeted approach, adding no more than 20 schools per year and managing less than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the program for five to 10 years and then return to their home districts.

It’s not unlike a business that brings in outside consultants for a new perspective. These reforms will focus on school leaders who specialize in turning around poorly performing schools, engaging parents and communities around these school improvement efforts, empowering educators and removing barriers to doing what is best for students.

I believe the voters of Georgia will wholeheartedly endorse this proposal because they want these children to have a chance in life, they want them to get an education, they want them to have good jobs and support their families and, yes, they want them to be law-abiding citizens.

The success of our criminal justice reforms gives credibility to the state that we can take on a tough problem, implement change and get better outcomes. Our most vulnerable children deserve no less.


This article originally appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.