Georgia school chief: Give public schools right to refuse students

I posted earlier this week that I didn’t quite get a comment Georgia school chief John Barge made about vouchers at a Georgia Association of Educators’ panel Monday. He said private and public schools have to first be on an even playing field, which couldn’t happen until public schools are able to tell more people “no.”

In response to my post, I received a copy of the 2010 Education Coalition guide to Georgia candidates where Barge expanded on that theme. I still don’t get how public schools could ever pick and choose and turn away students in view of the constitutional mandate they are under to educate all children. I am certain many schools and teachers would cheer Barge’s comments, but I am not sure if his scenario is remotely possible under the law.

And that may be his intent: Barge pretty much dodges any future voucher debate if he says he’ll only consider vouchers if public schools get to pick their kids. (And if the public-school-choosing-their students part doesn’t doom Barge’s idea, his desire to have private schools face the same regulations as their public counterparts pretty much decimates it. Most private schools will not go for that.)

Here is what Barge said there about vouchers:

We cannot give tax money to private school families if we are not willing to even the playing field. This means that we have to give public schools the right to choose their students. We have to give public schools the right to refuse students. We have to make private schools live with the same regulations as public schools. Only then should we even consider the idea of a pure voucher for parents.

–By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

48 comments Add your comment

Old Time Educator

February 23rd, 2011
11:31 am

Two or three years ago, I was doing some research on Asian school systems. Several of the more prominent countries (I’ll have to pull my research to remember which ones) had an interesting system. High school students had to apply to the schools that they wanted to attend. Talk about an impetus to be at the top of the stack?!? Schools were given a huge reason to excel – they got their pick of the best and brightest to teach. Each school was rated, and based on those ratings (along with classes offered, location, and any other extras) the parents/students made a decision as to which schools to apply to. Much like we do here for college. I would love to see something like that here – maybe have a certain percent of your school made up of applicants as opposed to in district students, similar to magnet schools – but I know that 100% pick and choose wouldn’t work here due to location, etc. But it’s a neat idea, and one that may be worth investigating. Oh, and as for the constitutional mandate – constitutions can be changed.



February 23rd, 2011
11:31 am

Very simply put, Barge is asking that private institutions be required to accept all students seeking admission, regardless of their socio-economic status, health problems, and any other special needs as is required of public schools. Only then will the “field” be leveled.

I do not agree private schools should be required to accept all students who apply, but I do agree before tax monies are appropriated to private institutions, the legislature take care not to segregate our children because of the issues listed. This is a concern I have even when speaking of some charter schools.


February 23rd, 2011
11:36 am

I don’t think that public schools should be allowed pick and choose which students it feels are are “worthy” of an education. However, they should be able to choose not to continue trying to educate children who have repeatedly demonstrated the lack of desire for an education and are only disruptions in the classroom.


February 23rd, 2011
11:40 am

Well, I think we would have a boatload of parents who would seek sped designation for their kids, so they would not be able to be denied service based on their behavior!

HS Public Teacher

February 23rd, 2011
11:50 am

I can finally say that I 100% agree with this!

In high school at least, too many students and parents abuse the public school. The ’student’ does not want to be there and the ‘parent’ only wants them there to baby sit.

A TRUE STORY: In a 10th grade class, I met with the mother of a 190 year old (yep, he was a sophmore and had been for a number of years). This ’student’ never brought anything at all to class, never spoke (to me or anyone), was not a disruption, and never did any work or wrote anything at all. The mother said that she didn’t care about an education for him. She only cared about him not getting into trouble and keeping him in class allows for adult supervision.

ANOTHER TRUE STORY: Another 10th grade class with a 19 year old boy. Never got into trouble and never passed anything because he admittedly only wanted to be in school to sell drugs. After 7 months he was finally caught by the drug sniffing dogs.

Dunwoody Mom

February 23rd, 2011
11:55 am

In 2010, Wesleyan received almost a million dollars in funds via the Georgia Tax Credit Program. As long as these schools are receiving tax breaks they should be required to follow the same admission rules as public schoools.


February 23rd, 2011
11:58 am

In Japan, the compulsory education is through age 15 – at the end of Grade 9. To go on to upper secondary school, Grades 10-12, students must pass entrance exams. There are different types of HS, too. Some focused more on academic/college prep while others are mover vocational in nature. There are even highly specialized vocational school that really combine Grades 10-12 with the first 2 years of technical college programs.

Since those schools are beyond compulsory education, parents must pay tuition, too. I think we should start charging tuition to parents once students turn 16 since our compulsory education ends then, too. It shouldn’t be much different from going to (state) colleges.


February 23rd, 2011
12:04 pm

Too late. You “spared the rod” years ago by embracing everyone and tossing aside the core student (whose parents most likely paid the most taxes). The whole bunch is now spoiled, and educators wonder how we got to this point? When you welcome everyone and bend over backwards to do coddle to their every whim, the seeds for entitlement were planted.

Those that contributed the least society got the creme de la creme and they are not going to give it up without a fight. You’ve created a monster, and yet you now want a pay raise and bargaining right. Too late. The parents that pay the most in taxes with the kids you chose to ignore have finally had enough. Really, do you have to wonder where our bad attitudes came from?

That ‘let’s save the World mentality’ has virtually destroyed the US. We were set on this path to failure a long time ago.

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GA Joe

February 23rd, 2011
12:24 pm

Anyone taking MY tax money for education needs to play by the same rules as everyone else. Enough said.

If they don’t like the rules, then don’t take the money, PERIOD!

Top School

February 23rd, 2011
12:28 pm

There is no reason to deal with the bottom …WHEN YOU HAVEN’T FIXED THE TOP.
The Blind EYE is the leadership…

READ this to a 5TH GRADER…

The Atlanta Public School House caught FIRE…It started with a spark…the foundation smoldered and we watched it go up in flames. We called 911, they referred us to the APS Detectives, the APS OIR, Georgia Professional Standards, the APS Board of Education, and NOBODY came.

The school house burned to the ground with several teacher’s injured, and children suffocating under the rubble. No alarms sounded …extinguishers were found empty…Nobody came to help put the fire out.

Now, the Governor’s team of investigators are stepping in. The GBI is trying to determine the original cause of the fire.

Step Up Parents, not affected by the damage, are willing to continue to put their children in the hands of the current APS Leadership in exchange for the SACS document that survived the flames.

Should the APS Fire Chief, Firemen and Georgia State Education Officials that failed to answer the initial call remain in positions of authority?

ASK any 5th Grader…

What's best for kids?

February 23rd, 2011
12:35 pm

Another way to look at this is by offering school choice. If parents are allowed to choose the school that their children attend, then they will have more buy in to the school’s policies and procedures. If the parent isn’t happy with the school, then the parent can move to a school that better fits the child.
It’s basically the same thing, but with a more “feel good” approach.

Economic Laws

February 23rd, 2011
1:00 pm

Just end the mandatory attendance laws. Plenty of kids don’t belong in school. Laws that force their attendance only undermine the efforts of those who wish to learn.

Dekalbite@Old Time Educator

February 23rd, 2011
1:22 pm

“High school students had to apply to the schools that they wanted to attend. Talk about an impetus to be at the top of the stack?!? Schools were given a huge reason to excel – they got their pick of the best and brightest to teach. ”

Not so unusual. New York City has done that for years. They have an extensive magnet schools program. Kids from the 5 boroughs apply to they various magnet high schools. If they qualify, they get in and the rest go to what’s called “Zone Schools” meaning they must accept the kids that could not qualify to get into the magnet schools. While this may seem brutal, it does give students who want a good education the incentive to do well so they qualify for the magnet schools. No lottery is involved. No income level is set.

Students need to value their education. I think it would make all the difference in the world if public schools could turn away students. Kids and parents would see education in an entirely different light. We would see a definite uptick in scores. Maybe we could use the zone schools approach like NYC. Say what you want about northern schools. They get the job done better than Georgia.


February 23rd, 2011
1:22 pm

Maureen, I recall hearing that legislators were considering increasing the drop out age from 16 to 17. Have you heard anything about that this session?

Richard Woods

February 23rd, 2011
1:38 pm

To the first question on vouchers, Barge replied that vouchers work because private schools choose their curriculum and their students, and, “if students misbehave or don’t perform, they get rid of them. You are not leveling the playing field if you don’t give public schools the same option. You are never going to get the competition that vouchers will create until you level that playing field.” Pressed later as to how public schools get that flexibility to level the field, Barge replied, “Ultimately, that is not going to be something that I can do. That is going to come from the Legislature. We have to have the option for school systems to have the flexibility to tell some folks ‘no.’ “

From what I have seen since he won the primary, I would throw out much of what Dr. Barge said and look at his present statements, actions or lack thereof. The above is from an earlier post this week in which Dr. Barge addressed, or dodged, the question on vouchers. The key thought is that he believes he cannot do anything about this issue and that this is a legislative matter. I am not sure how he can consider something he doesn’t believe he can control. Furthermore, Dr. Barge received a campaign donation from a group associated with Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. The brother of Chip Rogers was recently hired as a communications specialist by the federally funded Race to the Top grant by our state education department. Chip Rogers is a strong advocate of vouchers. Where do his children go to school? This is not a criticism. It may offer some insight to the lack of clarity offered by Dr. Barge on this issue.


February 23rd, 2011
2:01 pm

@Old Time Educator, yest, the State Constitutions can be changed.

It only takes both houses of the state legislature and a majority of the electorate to change it. Good luck with that.

Jackie T.

February 23rd, 2011
2:11 pm

Dr. Barge seems to be unwilling to take any responsibility. He seems to be just delegating any decision making to someone other than himself. That way, he can claim he did something without any blame if it doesn’t work. He will probably take the credit for making it possible when it does work. Just a typical politician with no backbone.

Jackie T.

February 23rd, 2011
2:11 pm

Did I just gave Mr. Barge an honorary degree?

NY teaching vet

February 23rd, 2011
2:21 pm

Since students have the option to drop out at age 16, perhaps that should be the time for students to prove they are taking school seriously or be required to leave?

Carver Early College requires a Minumum CRCT score

February 23rd, 2011
3:15 pm

APS has individual high schools with entrance requirements. Carver Early College requires a minimum CRCT test score. If you don’t make the cut, you are refused admittance into the stand alone Carver Early College high school.
This is an example of a public school refusing students.

Carver School of the Arts, another stand alone high school, has audition requirements. If you don’t pass the audition, you are refused admittance into the high school. It is a double standard and manipulation of the system at APS.

If the Schools of Carver were one big high school, like others in APS, they would not make AYP. This way, the Carver School of Technology does not bring the other schools down. The schools with actual entrance requirements are able to look good as high schools and help APS. If they separated out the Communications Small Learning Community at Grady or the International Studies Small Learning Community at North Atlanta, those would be the top high schools at APS and possibly the state.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

February 23rd, 2011
3:33 pm

Why have we acquiesced for so long in the disruption of the instructional function of many of our public schools?

Many of our kids deserve better school environments than we’re providing them.

Concerned teachers-past and present, administrators-past and present, and parents can UNITE to provide our kids school environments conducive to learning.

Jordan Kohanim

February 23rd, 2011
4:04 pm

Dr. Spinks,
HOW do I unite? If I am vocal, I could get fired. If I voice concerns to parents, I am called a whiner (and could get targeted for dismissal). If I write opinion pieces, they are dismissed by the people of this state as little more than teacher complaints. I have no rights and no representation. I am vilified, written off, and ignored. If I try to voice objection to this treatment? I am whining again…

Other than quitting public education (voting with my feet), how can I convey how mush I disagree with direction in which public education is going?

Jordan Kohanim

February 23rd, 2011
4:11 pm

Springdale Park Elementary Parent

February 23rd, 2011
4:15 pm

There seems to be a great reluctance by some of you regulars to give Barge his due but what he’s saying is exactly right: we MUST engineer a way for public schools to say ‘no’ to students who don’t want to put in the work or follow a strict code of conduct.

That’ll put pressure squarely where it belongs–on Atlanta’s legions of good-for-nothing parents–and reinstate the primacy of discipline in the school setting.

And we’ll finally see the days when Gospel according to John (Trotter) will rule the day. I’m a believer!


February 23rd, 2011
4:32 pm

A couple of years ago, Georgia enacted a public school choice act that requires systems to allow parents to choose schools. When working out the details, educators came to the table ready and willing to allow the choice because we thought we would be able to select the candidates and approve them based on qualifications of attendance, discipline and academics. Unfortunately, the legislators who pushed for the law had other ideas. Only the parents were to be given options. School districts were not allowed to examine any of the major factors commonly associated with good students.

What Dr. Barge has said on this issue is one of the biggest concerns regarding public schools and the voucher agenda. We do not get to choose our students and the private schools do. If we proceed with vouchers, we only ask that the rules are fair for everyone. Private schools should be required to accept any students coming to them with a voucher.

Cobb History Teacher

February 23rd, 2011
4:37 pm

Public schools have always been forced to take everyone, which is often why they struggle. There are some parents who just let their children get on the big yellow people mover and that’s where their involvement in education ends (these are usually the ones who give you invalid email addresses and disconnected phone numbers as their contact information). Private schools are often seen as schools that excel some of this has to do with the fact that if you’re going to pay good money to send your child to school you are going to support and be involved in their education and some of it has to do with being able to select the clientele.

Top School

February 23rd, 2011
4:56 pm

@ Carver Early College requires a Minumum CRCT score
Carver School of the Arts, another stand alone high school, has audition requirements. If you don’t pass the audition, you are refused admittance into the high school. It is a double standard and manipulation of the system at APS.

Yes, that’s called APS SEGREGATION…
And if you wish to transfer into a NORTHSIDE APS school you will need to come from another IB School ( International Baccalaureate) School in APS.

Problem is if you are transferring from a Southside APS to a Northside APS school….Southside does not have any qualifying IB schools.

That’s how they “do it” in the Step Up Society.

long time educator

February 23rd, 2011
5:08 pm

One suggestion short of ending compulsory attendance is for disruptive students to be removed to an alternative school setting sooner. Fewer “one more chances” and more quickly a semester at a YDC type school. Run it like a Youth Detention Center; it should be one more alternative before expelling, but it should not be fun. Our one alternative school is not punative at all; it is computer based and allows students to catch up credits quickly. There probably is a place for this type of alternative setting, but these disruptive students need a taste of a YDC type system before they actually end up in prison. Judges ALWAYS think society is better off with these delinquents back in the school setting rather than turning them out on the street; but they don’t really think about how that affects the students who are really there to learn.

Carver Early College requires a Minumum CRCT score

February 23rd, 2011
5:16 pm

Mr. Top School, Deerwood and Beecher Hills elementary schools are IB schools. Imagine Wesley and the Intown Adademy charter schools are IB or applicant schools.

North Atlanta High School admits students from other areas of Atlanta regardless of IB status. It is not a prerequisite.

Can you share what you know about the individual Carver schools having entrance requirements? I thought the magnet like programs were phased out. This seems contradictory in the APS transformation plan of high schools. By having these entrance requirements for all students, are they not acting like a private school?


February 23rd, 2011
5:36 pm

I believe public schools should accept all students but quickly remove disruptive students.
The last year I taught, I had a sixth grader who had spent time in and out of YDC. He had actually called in a bomb threat during my interview (that should have been a sign.) He exposed himself to another boy in the hall and threatened to sexually assult the child. I wrote the offender up and was quickly bombarded by numerous faculty and admin who wanted me to retract the write up because the child would have been sent back to YDC (probablIty where he learned the behavior).
The child who had been threatened sobbed uncontrolably and the school didn’t want to contact his parents. I did call the child’s parents on my way home.
I knew the school was no place for me to work or have my child attend.
Why do some beleive it is okay to subject the whole to abuse and disrtuption to save a few who are already lost?
I still wonder what happened to the offender, he had been through so much in such a few years.


February 23rd, 2011
5:39 pm

Schools are required to hold a disciplinary hearing, or tribunal, before a student can be placed in an alternative school. This puts a burden on the school to prove their case for removal of the student. However, with Virtual School now available, why not set aside a lab in the home school and require disruptive students to complete their course work there?


February 23rd, 2011
6:13 pm

While I strongly believe that mandatory public education is crucial to our society, I also believe that the Georgia Constitution’s guarantee of a free “adequate public education for the citizens” does not obligate the school systems to aim for the lowest common denominator of “adequate.” I also think that the exclusive emphasis on the school system and the taxpayers, for funding, will never succeed in reaching the goal of student mastery. To get there, parents and students have to have requirements, rewards and consequences.

To be allowed to have their students in their neighborhood school of choice, parents should be required to pledge to deliver their children to school on time every day, fed and rested, healthy, with their homework done and prepared to behave in such a way that teachers can teach and other students can learn. They should further be held to attending at least one teacher conference per semester and to volunteering at least once a semester at the school. None of those prerequisites is dependent upon ethnicity, financial means or even language skills; they are the minimum basis for responsible parenting, and their absence is what makes it nearly impossible for other students to succeed.

If parents are not willing to make this pledge or do not practice it, their children should be sent to schools that specifically address this parental neglect. The Georgia Constitution grants to school systems the right to establish “special schools” as they see need; behavioral problems are just as much of a handicap as are other issues that qualify students for such schools currently. Students could return to the school of choice if they or their parents are willing to abide by the requirements, but they would have to prove their ability to do so while at the non-choice school.

This approach would serve to remove those who disrupt other students’ learning and to put them in the “appropriate educational environment” that Georgia school systems pledge to provide. Parents are complicit in this choice, so their failure to live by the contract is the trigger that sends their children from the classroom. And hopefully schools would be better equipped to provide for the very disparate needs of the students in both groups rather than pretending that those needs can be met in a single environment.


February 23rd, 2011
6:39 pm

I agree with you, Shar! Unfortunately, ADA demands “least restrictive environment” and parents will howl that their emotionally disturbed offspring are being restricted.


February 23rd, 2011
6:45 pm

Or their ADHD/OHI child, aka BD, but really just BAD!


February 23rd, 2011
6:52 pm

Before the parents of special needs students attack, let me state for the record that I have a child with a 504 due to Asperger’s. He has never been a behavior problem in school, but if he was, I would favor a small group learning environment for him.

Top School

February 23rd, 2011
9:36 pm

@Carver Early College requires a Minumum CRCT score

This is “how it works” on APS NORTHSIDE…You don’t just enter the APS-NORTHSIDE APS school…YOU MUST QUALIFY.
They bus the undesirable HISPANIC STUDENTS to Garden Hills Elementary regardless of their home addresses.

A graceful sidestep of segregation supported by our minority leadership in APS.

Most Children Left Behind

February 23rd, 2011
10:46 pm

I don’t exactly what the governor meant by “refusing” students, but I’d be thrilled if schools could just adequately discipline students! We would see teacher morale rise, and more people might want to be teachers if they knew they would actually be able to TEACH. I’m all for giving kids repeated chances as long as they (and their parents) are not getting in the way of teachers being able to do their jobs, and other kids being able to learn. Expel and suspend a few, don’t give them so many chances to sue because their “civil rights”, which might include threatening a teacher on Facebook, have been violated, and public education might be able to fulfill its intended purpose – to EDUCATE.


February 24th, 2011
9:04 am

Thank God for you, Maureen. It’s becoming quite clear that the AJC, WSB, Neal Boortz and the legislature are all being perfectly orchestrated by a political strategist pushing vouchers, Parent Trigger, etc…NOT EDUCATIONAL REFORM! Whoever is doing it is doing a great job. Wish you’d find out who’s PAYING for it.
Keep reporting correctly. I’m glad you have the guts to report what’s REALLY happening here.

What's best for kids?

February 24th, 2011
9:32 am

Most Children Left Behind,
It was the State School Superintendent who said this, not the governor. Our Governor’s name is Nathan Deal. Our School Chief’s name is Dr. John Barge.


February 24th, 2011
9:58 am


“It’s becoming quite clear that the AJC, WSB, Neal Boortz and the legislature are all being perfectly orchestrated by a political strategist pushing vouchers, Parent Trigger, etc…”

Interesting comment, since it ties in with two articles this week on the front page of the AJC’s Living section, on private schools. These articles feature the high-end private schools that everyone wants for their child when they think “private school”, largely gloss over the sky-high cost of attending those schools and are careful to mention that the parents are *taxpayers*. It does seem to support the voucher agenda.

The Tuesday article does, to the AJC’s credit, point out that the featured family’s combined annual cost of maintaining two children at private school is $45,000, and the family sold their Alpharetta home and moved to a Buckhead apartment in order to meet these costs. Not many families would be willing to make that sacrifice – and not many families could afford $45,000 annual schooling costs, even if foregoing home ownership and residing in a Buckhead apartment.

The Wednesday article largely features all the luscious extras of private schools. It’s funny how iPads are just an appallingly wasteful and wrong-headed idea for public school students, at least according to bloggers here, yet in private schools they’re part of the upside. The article claims that “Private school tuition in Georgia ranges from about $5,600 to $20,000, according to the Georgia Independent School Association.” However, a quick visit to the websites of the high-end schools (I checked Westminster, Lovett and Woodward) shows they’re all over $20,000 for high schoolers.

The Wednesday article quotes a sixth-grader from a “mostly low-income” student population who says “I am sharp. I get As … I want to go to Lovett because it’s a good school.” Perhaps this student is part of a privileged group of scholarship recipients. Otherwise, it would seem his parents would need to pay $21,590 per year in tuition alone, to send him to Lovett.

I think it’s great that some low-income youth are able to get funding to attend these exclusive schools. But in honesty, these schools are completely out of reach for the vast majority of families, including virtually the entire middle class (excepting those willing to make extreme financial sacrifices). Most families can’t pay over $20,000 per child per year for schooling. The AJC might just as well run articles suggesting that investing in a vacation home on the French Riviera is a viable lifestyle option for their readership. That’s true for some, of course, but it’s absurd for most of us.

Former Middle School Teacher

February 24th, 2011
10:33 am

AYP completely changed the way high schools worked, combine that with the elimination of multiple graduation tracks and you have a mess. Attendance is a complete joke in many systems because the students know that they can be absent as often as they like and nothing will happen. Schools can’t afford for them to drop out and effect the graduation rate. Discipline faces the same problem.


February 24th, 2011
10:37 am

“The cost of an education at Atlanta Youth Academy is $12,000 per year.”

How much would those vouchers be, again?


February 24th, 2011
11:24 am

Jan @ 11:36 a.m. – Amen, that is all!


February 24th, 2011
11:52 am

@ AJinCobb — look in the halls of these private schools. Do you ever see a kid in a wheelchair, or one who doesn’t have a way, other than Marta, to get to school, or one who doesn’t have a parent who feeds them breakfast, or one who doesn’t have a computer at home? They can weed out the ones that don’t look good.


February 24th, 2011
11:59 am

@observer – I’ve done very little visiting of private schools, but I have no reason to doubt your latest comment. I think we’re on the same page in thinking the voucher agenda is ridiculous and that it’s absurd to imply that the average family’s school options include Atlanta’s elite private schools.

drew (former teacher)

February 24th, 2011
3:19 pm

So Barge says: “We have to give public schools the right to refuse students. We have to make private schools live with the same regulations as public schools.”

Is it just me, or is Mr. Barge talking out of both sides of his face? On one hand he says that private schools should have to accept all students (like public schools do). Then on the other hand, he’s saying public schools deserve the right to refuse certain students (like private schools do). So which is it? It’s funny to watch politicians dance around the vouchers issue.

Personally, I think EVERY school should have simple avenues to expel any student who has exhibited chronic disruptive behavior in school. I wonder how much better public schools would be if they could rid themselves of the very small percentage of students who do nothing but disrupt the learning of others.


February 25th, 2011
8:18 am

@ observer,

I don’t see what being in a wheelchair has anything to do with schooling.