By Johnny Jackson
School officials are seeing some benefits to a state plan that could give school systems more flexibility in governing locally.
"I'm intrigued by the idea of what looks to be tailor-made education funding," said Ericka Davis, chairwoman of the Clayton Public Schools' Board of Education. "That's intriguing to me, because it puts some control into the local school systems to see what works..."
The idea, as dreamed up in the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue, is potential legislation that would be known as the Investing in Educational Excellence (IE2) Partnership.
The partnership would effectively increase student achievement, according to supporters of the proposal.
"This new education partnership is the most far-reaching education legislation this state has ever seen and provides true choice for our school systems," said Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth).
Coleman, chairman of the House education committee, plans to sponsor the proposal he describes as "flexibility with accountability." He will speak about IE2 during a House education study committee on Tuesday.
The IE2 Partnership would allow local school systems to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the state that sets up a system of performance contracts, effectively giving more flexibility to the systems in return for increased accountability.
That flexibility, according to Coleman, includes exemptions or waivers from Title 20 laws that regulate state funding for schools, class sizes, school-day schedules, and so on.
School systems will, in turn, promise results of improved performance on state standards, Coleman said.
"The contract between the state and the local school system will ultimately be approved by the State Board of Education," he said.
School systems, he added, would be required to have public hearings for citizens to have input on the school system's request to the State Board for "flexibility and accountability"
The local school system will also work with the Georgia Department of Education during the negotiation and contracting process to decide on what to include in the state-system contract.
The performance of each school system will be based on goals set over a three-year period during which the local school system will agree to achieve certain results.
"The new IE2 Partnership completely redefines the relationship between the state and local school systems," said Gov. Sonny Perdue. "Now, future conversations about education can focus on student achievement results."
The Governor's Office of Student Achievement would evaluate school systems each year, measuring school systems' progress toward their contract goals. If their performance goals are not met, consequences that have previously been agreed upon would be enacted.
Board Chairwoman Davis said the autonomous nature of IE2 could benefit under-funded and much needed programs in Clayton.
"That's exciting to me," Davis said.
She said she believes that educational governing should be specific to individual school systems that are inherently different. "One size fits all doesn't work," she said.
She said about 74 percent of students in the Clayton County School System meet the federal poverty guidelines. "All of our schools are Title I schools," Davis added. "And we have more than 60 dialects."
Davis said that IE2 would be beneficial to the school system by allowing the system-specific academic and enrichment programs that cater to low-income students and foreign language speaking students.
"It does require flexibility to work your dollars in order to produce those types of programs and get them funded," she said. "It's exciting to think local control and putting in our hands the ability to decide how those dollars are to be spent locally is best."
Pending passage in the House of Representatives, Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) will carry the IE2 Partnership in the Senate.