Lot of Blame, Little Control
If you are the governor of a state, education is a big deal. You get to brag about how well your state is doing on the national exams or you get to offer excuses about why things are not as bad as they look. But the fact is, the governor has slim to no control over local education. In most jurisdictions, the selection of the local school board is a local decision either by election or appointment. It is the local school board that hires the school system superintendent. Several governors have become tired of the blame with none of the gain. Not surprisingly, they think they can do it better.
Five states, Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina all have some form of a state controlled school district within the state. Mostly these mini-districts are made up of failing schools. Louisiana is the exception. After Katrina New Orleans public school system was destroyed both literally and figuratively. It was slowly rebuilt from a collection of charter schools that opened after the storm. By 2019, all of these state controlled schools will return to the management of the local school district.
The other four states that have state controlled districts have included those schools which were considered failing schools under No Child Left Behind or will be under the new Every Student Succeeds Act. Most of these take-overs have a clause that will end the operation of the district within a fixed time frame.
Now Georgia wants to amend it state constitution to allow for a more aggressive role by the governor and the state in the state’s educational system. The amendment has created some strange bedfellows. The teachers’ union, the state school boards’ association, the Georgia PTA and some conservative Republicans are all against the amendment. On the other side is the GOP Governor Deal who has both proposed and championed the state run district that is modeled on those developed in both Louisiana and Tennessee. His allies include the state chamber of commerce and some Democrats in the legislature. The pro-amendment side has raised 1.2 million dollars. The National Education Association that is the umbrella group for the local teachers’ union is coughing up 1.5 million to fight the amendment. Teachers are concerned that the new district will be made up of charter schools and that will deplete the union membership.
What is interesting about all this is that the primary issue seems to be one of control. Nowhere in the other five states with some state controlled districts nor in the Georgia issue is there any evidence that the children in the state controlled districts actually learn more nor are there proposals for how that will happen.
Maybe there is a good reason governors do not control local education.