Saturday, May 16, 2009

Old Times Here (in Athens) Ain't Forgotten

One of the many surprises from this past year's Georgia legislative session was the vote to make school choice districts a state-wide phenomenon. The contrast to Athens-Clarke County's actions to rescind school choice (which I've written about) is striking.

A new Georgia law will give more parents the power to pick their children’s schools.

A controversial bill signed recently by Gov. Sonny Perdue gives parents the ability to cross neighborhood boundaries and select almost any campus in their district — the closest ones, the ones with the best SAT scores, sports teams, etc. As long as there is room to teach the new students.

“The [law] really empowers parents to choose a school that is in the best interest of their child, not necessarily the best interest of their school district,” said State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, (D-Austell), sponsor of the legislation.

State Department of Education administrators will be meeting with superintendents from across the state to seek advice in crafting a new rule upholding the choice transfer law. That rule is not likely to be approved by the legislation’s July 1 target date, but guidance should be available in time for parents seeking transfers for the 2009-10 school year.
It makes you wonder how this will affect Athens-Clarke, which went out of its way (and over the objection of virtually all of its parents) to rescind school choice and force everyone into their neighborhood schools (race, poverty and low academic standards be damned).

As the school year wraps up Wednesday, hundreds of other students in the Clarke County School District will spend their last days playing games, signing yearbooks and reminiscing about field trips, festivals and friendships before a new attendance zone policy passed in December shifts them into different schools.

About 45 percent of students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade - more than 2,000 children - will move to different schools closer to where they live starting next school year, after the Clarke County Board of Education voted to end a policy that allowed parents to choose their child's school.

I'm not sure if it's funny, sad or simply pathetic that Athens-Clarke County, with its Democratic progressive liberal image, would be eliminating choice and re-segregating its schools, at the same time the Republican-controlled conservative state legislature (which voted in the Georgia Senate in April to secede from the Union!) is pushing for educational excellence and school choice. Listen to the rationale offered by supporters, both in the legislature and from the front lines in the classroom.

Morgan and some metro Atlanta civil rights groups see the new law as an important victory for parents. It opens doors to better educational options as the 55th anniversary of the landmark school desegregation case Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka nears. Families living in poverty near aging schools will be able to send their kids to newer campuses in affluent communities. Transportation will not be provided to the new schools, however.

Cobb County teacher Carol Stephens said choice transfers are necessary because school boundary lines don’t always allow parents to send their kids to the closest or highest-ranked schools.

“Our schools end up being segregated because of housing patters,” Stephens said. “This would help bring that down a bit.”

It speaks volumes that a teacher in a county (Cobb) with minimal racial diversity recognizes the segregating effect of neighborhood schools, while the dunderheads on the Athens-Clarke School Board, in one of the most racially and economically diverse communities in the country, are completely clueless.

Between re-segregating the schools, wiping out 1st grade parapros, and arresting 1st graders, the Athens-Clarke school board is making it increasingly difficult for parents to support public education.

Here's hoping this new state law will supersede Athens-Clarke's desire to wind the clock back to the bad old days, pre-1954, before Brown v. Board of Education.

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