September 17 Draft Recommendations

Governor Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission

Expanding Educational Options and School Choice Subcommittee

Draft Recommendations

Charter Schools

  1. Goal #1: Increase access to affordable facility options for charter schools
    1. Define “unused facility” in OCGA 20-2-2068.2
    2. Establish an appeals process by which a charter school can appeal to a third party when there is a disagreement about authorizer compliance with OCGA 20-2-2068.2.  The third party would have authority to determine whether a facility meets the statutory definition of “unused”.
    3. Clarify that any property owned or leased by a non-profit for use by a charter school is considered “public property” and exempt from tax under OCGA 48-5-41.
    4. Establish a statewide competitive grant fund for charter facility expenses
  2. Goal #2: Increase accountability for both charter schools and local authorizers
    1. Establish a model authorizer code in Georgia statute; have the DOE annually report the status of authorizer’s compliance with the Georgia code to the General Assembly.
    2. Codify a presumptive termination/non-renewal provision for any charter school that performs in the bottom quartile of the state AND local government in statewide student performance tests for three consecutive years absent exceptional circumstances (as defined in state rule)    
  3. Goal #3: Ensure equitable funding of Georgia charter schools
    1. Require that local districts give charter schools a proportional share of Title II and IDEA funds, or by mutual agreement, a proportional share of in-kind services
    2. Ensure that training and state regulatory environment enable charters to receive an equitable share of Title I dollars
    3. Require districts to “true-up” charter allocations annually to include revenue collected in excess of budget target   

Student Scholarship Organizations

Existing Program:

  1. True up pledges to actual contributions annually
    1. Require the Department to switch from counting pledges to counting actual contributions against the tax credit cap
    2. Require the count to be adjusted as real numbers come in and require the Department to make SSOs aware that additional space has become available below the cap
  2. Change the yearly start date of the program

For the existing program, or any new program created, make the start date for the program something other than January 1st.  A more workable date might be “the first Monday that is not a holiday in January” or any other such date.  A start date later in the year allows corporations to close out their fiscal years before the cap is reached and having a start date that is not a holiday (as New Year’s Day is) benefits both donors and state employees.

 

New Means Tested Program:

  1. Create a new scholarship tax credit program that will serve only children who qualify by direct certification upon their initial application to the program
  2. Require SSOs to allow eligible students to attend any qualified school at which they are accepted
  3. Implement with following requirements:
  4. Increase transparency
    1. Clarify public reporting on the distribution of scholarships by income
      1. Require SSOs to report annually the total number of scholarships and percentage of scholarships awarded to students in households:
        1. That qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL),
        2. In households between 100% and 200% FRL,
        3. In households between 200% and 300% FRL,
        4. and households above 300% FRL
        5. Alternatively, consider different metric
  5. Require SSOs to report annually the percentage of tax credit donations expended (not obligated) on scholarships versus administrative and other costs
  6. Increase accountability of SSOs and schools receiving scholarship funds
    1. Require SSOs to conduct criminal background checks on all employees and board members and exclude from employment or governance any individual(s) that might reasonably pose a risk to the appropriate use of contributed funds
    2. Require participating schools to conduct criminal background checks on employees and exclude from employment any individual(s):
      1. not permitted by state law to work in a private school;
      2. and that might reasonably pose a threat to the safety of students or a risk to the appropriate use of contributed funds
  7. Require each SSO to ensure that participating schools that accept its scholarship shall:
    1. annually administer either state achievement tests or nationally norm-referenced tests that measure learning gains in math and language arts to all participating students in 3rd, 5th and 8th grades;
    2. allow costs of the testing requirements to be covered by the scholarships distributed by the student scholarship organizations;
    3. provide the parents of each student who was tested with a copy of the results of the tests, beginning with the first year of testing;
    4. provide the test results to the Department or an organization chosen by the state on an annual basis, beginning with the first year of testing;
    5. report student information that would allow state to aggregate data by grade level, gender, family income level, and race;
    6. provide graduation rates of participating students to the Department or an organization chosen by the state in a manner consistent with nationally recognized standards; and
    7. provide to the Department or an organization chosen by the state the results from an annual parental satisfaction survey, including information about the number of years that the parent’s child has participated in the scholarship program. The annual satisfaction survey shall ask parents of scholarship students to express:
      1. Their satisfaction with their child’s academic achievement, including academic achievement at the school their child attended through the scholarship program versus academic achievement at the school previously attended;
      2. Their satisfaction with school safety at the schools their child attends through the scholarship program versus safety at the schools previously attended;
      3. Whether their child would have been able to attend their school of choice without the scholarship; and
      4. Their opinions on other topics, items, or issues that the department finds would elicit information about the effectiveness of the scholarship program.
      5. The Department or an organization chosen by the state shall:
        1. ensure compliance with all student privacy laws;
        2. collect all test results;
        3. provide the test results and associated learning gains to the public via a state Web site after the third year of test and test-related data collection. The findings shall be aggregated by the students’ grade level, gender, family income level [use same FRL measures as above], number of years of participation in the scholarship program, and race; and
        4. provide graduation rates to the public via a state Web site after the third year of test and test-related data collection. 
  8. Increase the portability of scholarships
    1. Require that scholarships are portable during the school year and can be used at any qualifying school that accepts the eligible student according to a parent’s wishes
    2. If a student moves to a new qualifying school during a school year, the scholarship amount may be prorated
  9. Require donated funds must be expended (not just obligated) within next two full school years from receipt
  10. Consider allowing additional tax sources for the new program similar to other states with corporate programs:
    1. Corporate income tax;
    2. Insurance premium tax;
    3. Alcoholic beverage excise tax;
    4. Oil and gas tax

Educational Savings Accounts

If the legislature wishes to pursue creating ESAs in GA, they should consider:

  1. Possibly converting existing scholarship program to ESAs.  Rather than advocating passage of entirely new programs, consider converting the Special Needs Scholarship Program to an ESA.  One of the primary benefits in doing so would be more flexibility in the use of funds.  While scholarship programs may meet many needs, in the 21st century/digital age, there are many programs and instruction models available to students that do not conform to traditional private/public school modalities.  ESAs provide an outlet for parents to seek multiple service providers – including online learning, tutoring, support services, etc. – to meet the needs of their student in a more customizable/flexible way than traditional scholarships provide.
    1. Making changes to the existing special needs scholarship program should take into account parent perception and be an opt-in rather than mandatory shift.
  2. Prioritizing students with greater needs.  Of course, the more the state prioritizes (or exclusively offers) ESAs for students of greater need, the greater the fiscal savings to the state.  This could look a number of ways, but most common is to include some combination of the following categories of students:
    1. students with special needs--these students are often the most difficult for traditional districts to provide for, when specialized programs and services already exist to meet their unique needs. Approximately 2 in 3 special needs students in Georgia public schools currently do not graduate.
    2. students from foster families--not only do these students not have a say in where they end up, but the families fostering the students usually don’t have the financial means or even legal authority to educate the students anywhere other than their zoned public school.  Similar to families in the above-listed categories, of all families deserving flexibility, it seems foster families easily fit the bill.
    3. students from military families--military families don’t get a choice where they are stationed, and therefore where their children are zoned for public school.  It is often politically beneficial to prioritize these students and their families as a result of the sacrifices their parents have made.
    4. students who are refugees/English language learners--usually difficult to integrate into regular ed programs in a traditional school, which specialized schools exist to serve them.
    5. students with financial need--while the legislature generally dislikes programs prioritizing access based on financial metrics, it is also the charge of the Governor to find ways to expand choice with a clear emphasis on offering choices to those who don’t already have them (i.e. financial resources).  Exactly how this is measured is up to the will of the legislature. It is possible to offer ESAs to all students, but stagger the amount the state contributes to the ESA on a sliding scale based on income.  For instance, students of lower/middle income families receive 100% of the state portion of their education funding in an ESA while families of greater means only receive 75% of the state portion.
  3. Ensuring academic accountability
    1. require all participating students to be administered either nationally norm-referenced tests or state achievement tests
    2. require that results be published to a research entity contracted with by the state or an otherwise designated state entity (GOSA, etc.)
    3. require an annual parental satisfaction survey
  4. Ensuring financial accountability/transparency
    1. require annual audits of ESA accounts
    2. allow for administrative action/prosecution of any parent willingly engaged in misuse of government funds via the ESA
    3. require a hotline for reporting of fraud
    4. require administering entity (GOSA) to collect and report data on how ESA funds are used
  5. Allowing for funds unused during K-12 to be allocated for college, within reason.  This is one of the fundamental features of an ESA.  For many economically disadvantaged families, it may be one of the only mechanisms to save for higher education.  This should not mean that families skimp on K-12 in order to save for college.  However, one of the fundamental features of ESAs as opposed to traditional scholarship/voucher programs is private program cost control and the ability to apply any realized savings toward future educational expenses.

Home Education and Other Non-traditional Educational Options

  1. Require local school systems that offer PSAT or AP testing to their students to offer such testing equally to students in private schools, NTECs, or home educated students who reside within the school system.
    1. Allow local systems to charge students who do not attend their local public school the marginal cost to the system of offering the additional test.
    2. If the charge exceeds $10 per test, the system must provide documentation for the amount and obtain the approval of the State Board of Education prior to imposing the charge.
  2. Reconsider 2013 amendments to SBOE Rule 160-5-1-.15(1)(a), which redefined accredited schools for purposes of credit transfer so to treat accredited NTECS as though they are unaccredited.