Georgia can return to leading role in giving students choices

There was a time when Georgia was considered a national leader in education reform that empowered students and parents. That time, alas, is gone with the wind — the wind of politicians who talk a good game on school choice while sitting idly and watching other states blow past us.

Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania — these states are moving forward while we stand still.

“If Georgia does not have a fierce sense of urgency today, this I think will be Georgia’s defining moment,” said Leslie Hiner, vice president of state relations at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. “Either this is that time when Georgia goes big and bold and accepts no excuses for excellence for your kids, or not.”

Less than a decade ago, it was just the opposite. Hiner was a top legislative aide in Indiana when Mitch Daniels was first elected governor in 2004. That same year, Georgia Republicans took full control of our statehouse and put school choice on the agenda.

“We were so impressed by what we saw coming immediately out of Georgia that we really paid attention, and we made phone calls down to Georgia … we actually shared ideas back and forth on education reform and on a number of issues,” Hiner told me by phone this week. “And it really just seemed everybody was highly motivated in Georgia at that time.”

The difference, she said, is that Indiana considered that initial flurry of activity just a first step. Georgia has rested on our laurels.

Efforts to expand school choice sputtered during the last two years. The Georgia Supreme Court threw out the state’s strongest charter schools law (on a dubious reading of the law and history, I might add). School accountability measures haven’t gotten off the ground.

Of the states forging ahead, Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee are of particular concern. They are our neighbors, and our competitors for jobs. Hiner said her experience in Indiana is that business decision makers pay attention to education reforms.

“They understand that everyone’s vested in [Indiana’s] educational success, that people aren’t just talking, people are taking action,” she said, “and if you [as a business] want to bring your time, talents and money to a state, you want to go to a state where people are vested in their own success.”

She added, “That’s what was happening in Georgia.”

That’s “was,” not “is.”

While Indiana has been among the national leaders in student-centered educational reform, Florida is the model that some activists are holding up for Georgia. And with good reason. Florida’s series of reforms, begun in earnest in 1999 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, have produced spectacular results.

In 1998, Georgia rated ahead of Florida on a national test of reading skills for fourth-graders — a key metric, because most learning from the fourth grade onward depends on a child’s literacy.

By 2009, not only had fourth-graders in Georgia fallen behind their counterparts in Florida, but low-income students in Florida almost equaled the average score for all Georgia students. It’s a shocking development. Not only do low-income students typically fare worse than the average on such exams, but the gap between Georgia students and low-income Florida students was still large nine years ago.

That outcome contradicts the frequent argument that school choice favors the wealthy. So do the outcomes for Florida’s minorities. Hispanic fourth-graders in Florida, for example, score better in reading than the average for all students in 31 states.

In Florida, the gains have been largest for those who were furthest behind.

Florida has used some of the same policy tools as Georgia: a tuition tax credit scholarship (albeit with more transparency than ours), vouchers for special-needs students, virtual education and charter schools.

But, like Indiana, Florida hasn’t been content simply to pass legislation. It has tightened standards and expanded the programs that work best. More than 210,000 Florida children benefited from choice measures in 2010-11, a 57 percent increase from just four years earlier.

Georgia has had enough of “was.” Let’s get back to “is.”

– By Kyle Wingfield

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62 comments Add your comment

Ayn Rant

November 3rd, 2011
6:23 am

School choice is a political ploy to weaken and eventually eliminate public education. The statistics Kyle cites to support his political ideal are non-conclusive at best.

There is no political or organizational solution to the problems of American primary education. There is no substitute for comprehensive curricula, effectively presented, and sustained by parental insistence and supervision.

Don’t dwell on miniscule statistical differences between states with or without “school choice”! Show us education comparisons of US states with Shanghai, Seoul, and Singapore. Give the property tax payers who fund primary education a clear picture of where our overpriced, non-performing schools stand against the best in the world.


November 3rd, 2011
6:50 am

Offering online courses gives you more choices. For instance, a course may not be able to attract enough students at any one location to offer it, but can when students from all those locations are added together, find your field at “High Speed University” using their tool

The Snark

November 3rd, 2011
6:50 am

“Vouchers” are not the answer. Admit the “voucher” policy for what it is: a tool to subsidize private school tuition for people that are already paying private school tuition. Folks who support vouchers already have their kids in private schools.

Don’t think so? Then answer this: What good is a $4000 voucher to a parent that can’t come up with the remaining money to pay for a $12,000 a year private school?

Road Scholar

November 3rd, 2011
6:52 am

We are No 49, we are No 49….er…we are No 2…from the bottom!

Have we ever been higher than the last 10 percentile? We need to improve our requirements in math and science base courses for our present students to compete on the world market. We need to get tougher on parents who ignore the truth about their kids. And we need to “encourage” the dropouts and bad influences with an ultimatum to do better..or..


November 3rd, 2011
6:57 am

I agree with Ayn Rant. If you want to compare GA with other states, don’t compare us with those states…compare us with the states that are leading in education. It is illogical to think giving people vouchers to pay for private school will bring up the bottom performing group of kids. These children mostly come from below the poverty line, have no parental support at home, are, in many cases, hungry, sleep deprived. These families cannot make up the difference between the vouchers and costs of private school. The voucher program is pushed by private school lobbyists–especially the religious schools–to get students. There is an irony here. One, just because you do have a voucher and you might be able to afford private school, it doesn’t mean any private school will accept you. Unlike public schools, the private schools can turn away the tired, the poor, the unwashed–and they will. the more money you suck out of the public school system for the voucher program, the more the kids “trapped” in the system will suffer. There cannot be any other outcome. What we need to do is pay less on useless administrators with fat pensions and pay more for qualified STEM teachers. We need teachers that can teach content–science,math,engineering, and technology, and less dim wits that could barely pass their teaching courses while in college.

Karl Marx

November 3rd, 2011
7:12 am

Ayn Rant, good point, “Show us education comparisons of US states with Shanghai, Seoul, and Singapore.” When you do compare our schools with the rest of the world you will find that the money does not go directly to the school, it follows the child. That is something teacher unions vowed to fight to the death over.


November 3rd, 2011
7:18 am

Georgia has never been a leader in education. Georgia, along with other states, will never improve education as long as politicians attempt to set policy for political reasons.


November 3rd, 2011
7:24 am

On almost every issue, the voters want politicians to stay out of their business and “do no harm”. Politicians are often leaders in doing harm. Now we are told that these same hacks have the answers for education. MOST OF THEM DO NOT EVEN KNOW THE QUESTIONS, LET ALONE HAVE ANSWERS. No Child Left Behind and its massive underfunding serves as another example.
Public schools remain the most democratic institution in the country. They take students in regardless of income, parents job,etc. and educate them. Pure democracy at work.


November 3rd, 2011
7:25 am

P.S. Amen to arnold too. Political agendas should not drive school policies


November 3rd, 2011
7:31 am

So let me get this right Kyle, in 2004 the Republicans took full control and in 2011 we are worse off than in 1998? Sounds like more evidence of poor leadership to me.


November 3rd, 2011
7:41 am

The optimum beginning age for a child’s learning is 3 yrs old and teachers don’t have access to children at that age. If parents are not reading to their children every night from the time they are old enough to follow a picture book, their child will be playing catch up. Sure, there is a % of children who’ll excel in spite of their parent’s unwillingness to read to and expose their children to learning opportunities, but the %s are against you. As for more the immigrant, if you are not taking steps to ensure English is the main spoken language in your household, percentages show you’re condemning your child to under achieve in the classroom.


November 3rd, 2011
7:46 am

Great, more neoliberal ideas from Friedman. Read “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein to get a clear understanding of Friedmanism.


November 3rd, 2011
8:05 am

You liberals are so funny, you keep complaining about the vouchers, but what is your answer to our failing public schools? Oh that’s right the ONLY answer to any problem for a lib, throw more tax dollars at it… yeah that will fix it…. NOT


November 3rd, 2011
8:13 am

So If Georgia is to attract industry and business we must reform our state education system. Does this mean you are in favor of the transportation SPLOST to be voted on in July?


November 3rd, 2011
8:15 am

It’s hard to take all the quotes from Leslie Hiner seriously when she is noted to be the vice president of state relations at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

also, I don’t see school choice as a cure all for GA’s education woes. Nothing here is making me think differently.

Gen. MacArthur

November 3rd, 2011
8:19 am

The only thing Georgia leads in or will ever lead in, is backwardness.

Bart Abel

November 3rd, 2011
8:29 am

Like others above have mentioned, the real goal of many advocates of schools choice is, primarily, to privatize K-12 education. The rest, I fear, is just a smoke screen.

Education policy isn’t rocket science. Simply observe what the best education systems in the world are doing and do that. I think anybody who does the research is unlikely to find vouchers and charter schools in the mix. To the contrary, they’re likely to find strong public education systems with relatively small class sizes and well-paid and highly-respected teachers.


November 3rd, 2011
8:31 am

The key sentence is this essay is “that same year, Georgia republicans took full control of our statehouse”. The Republican Party is now built on a foundation of lies and incompetence. Eight years of George W. Bush showed us that. So, it’s no suprise our education system is heading for rock bottom.

Chuck Doberman

November 3rd, 2011
8:36 am

OMG! You want to use Florida as an example??!! Seriously??!! Have you spoken to anyone with school-aged children in Florida? (Not the lobbyists or legislators bent on abolishing public education, I’m talking about real parents, the ones who can’t afford the extra $8000 a year for a private school) I moved away from Florida 1 1/2 years ago along with anyone else I knew that could afford to. You’re right that Jeb and his Repub buddies took the assault on public education out of the closet and put it into our living rooms… and that has been a resounding success with the “Ah ain’t payin’ fer sumwon elses kids education” crowd… you know, the folks who want stellar services from their gov’ts but don’t want to pay any taxes for them. Florida may have improved according to some specific polls, but it still occupies the bottom of the barrell. It is by no means a good example for ANYTHING, nevermind something as vitally important to our country’s future as education. Ask some actual residents, they will tell you. It’s a beautiful place to live if you’re kids are grown and you’ve retired, but if you need to make a living you’ll be fighting the tide down there. Florida as an example… what a sad, sad joke that is.

Live Free or Die

November 3rd, 2011
8:37 am

The City of Atlanta says Occupy Atlanta cost taxpayers $451,691
according to Mayor Kasim Reed’s office.

I say the taxpayers pay for the right of Freedom of Assembly.

Taxpayers should not pay for the
Atlanta International Airport to operate in a non-transparent manner.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

November 3rd, 2011
8:41 am

If you believe teacher pay is the issue, you are admitting that the problem is the teachers.

too busy to hate

November 3rd, 2011
8:42 am

Central Atlanta Progress should be ashamed for complaining about Occupy Atlanta.

sean Smith

November 3rd, 2011
8:43 am

I want to know how you can continue to cut funding for schools at all levels and expect better results?

Would we get better fighter jets if we told Lockheed they were going to be getting less money?


November 3rd, 2011
8:50 am

As long as the State is entrenched with education…..
you produce graduates with the skills only necessary to work for the State.
Viscous cycle…and we’re living it.

Don't Tread

November 3rd, 2011
8:58 am

Right now we graduate people from college who can’t spell or use the correct word in a sentence. This whole idea of bonuses based on graduation rates is stupid. It just encourages grade inflation and passing students who should fail because they haven’t bothered to learn the material. So much for accountability.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

November 3rd, 2011
9:15 am

“You know, the folks who want stellar services from their gov’ts but don’t want to pay any taxes for them.”

Heck, that’s 47% of Americans who pay zero income tax.

You’re right–we need to fix the free rider problem.


November 3rd, 2011
9:26 am

There are 2,631,020 students in the Florida public school system and “More than 210,000 Florida children…” benefited from the Florida plan. What about the other 2,421,020 students?

Some selected numbers.


Graduation Rate….66.9%…44th in nation

Dropout Rate…3.3%….18th in nation

Per Pupil Spending…$8,995…34th in nation


Graduation Rate…65.4%…46th

Dropout Rate…4.3%…27th

Per Pupil Spending…$9,692…27th

Georgia seems to be getting less for the amount of money spent. Wonder why?



November 3rd, 2011
9:28 am

You can move or go to private school or get involved in the school you don’t like, plenty of choices. What you want is a vocher and that is a bad idea.


November 3rd, 2011
9:35 am

It starts and ends at home. If the parents can’t or won’t be the main driver in their child’s education and if they do not consistently stress the importance of education, beginning at a very young age, a Harvard professor won’t be able to help the child.


November 3rd, 2011
10:03 am

The secret to Shanghai’s success is the motivated students and parents. Their success does not extend beyond Shanghai. In other words, the Chinese government does not care to educate all their people. A select few will do fine. Shanghai’s curriculum is governed by local bodies, not the Chinese government.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:12 am

Snark: Florida provides income statistics for its two voucher programs, one for special-needs kids and one for kids in failing schools. Of the kids who get the special-needs voucher, 47% qualify for free or reduced lunch; for the failing-schools voucher, the figure is 65%.

Any other theories?

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:16 am

JDW: Not exactly. Georgia’s scores rose, just not as quickly as Florida’s. And which party do you think was in charge in Florida?

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. In most of the states where meaningful reforms, including school choice, are happening, they’re happening because there’s bipartisan support for them. There are a handful of Democrats in Georgia who are on board with this. We need more of them, to outweigh those Republicans who have their heads in the sand.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:17 am

Techfan: Right, because Naomi Klein is toooooootally nonideological. :-(

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:18 am

David: Support or opposition to the T-SPLOST should be based on the project list. I haven’t totally made up my mind, but I’m leaning toward a “no” because I think there’s a lot of waste in that list.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:24 am

Bart: “Simply observe what the best education systems in the world are doing and do that.”

Then you ought to be in favor of letting the money follow the child. “Public education” in many countries means educational costs are paid by the public, not necessarily provided by government employees.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
10:29 am

jconservative: My point was to illustrate the growth in usage (the 57% figure), but your comments prompt me to make another point. School choice is about improving matters at the margins. If Georgia were to adopt the same measures as Florida, it’s highly likely that, as in Florida, nothing would change for the vast majority of students. That’s because public schools work fine for the vast majority of students; personally, I attended nothing but public schools, K through college.

But things would change for those students for whom their assigned public school isn’t working fine, for whatever reason. Improving things at the margin has huge implications for the future of the state.


November 3rd, 2011
10:36 am

Here’s an idea: why not fix the broken school? Vouchers to me are like saying “I’ll just use my left arm because there’s a bullet hole in my right leg.”


November 3rd, 2011
10:40 am

shh Kyle! Public Education proponents want to hear nothing about the possibility of competition to their near-and-dear monopoly on education.


November 3rd, 2011
11:07 am

If anywhere needs school choice it is APS. The district needs to be disbanded. We need charter schools or something. The district is a travesty against humanity.

When you have a moonpoly – government controlled – you are askig for situations such as APS.

Look at how the Post Office improved when competiton (FED EX, UPS,…) came on the scene.

For us parents who can’t afford private education, we are forced to send are kids to these APS hell holes.

Most would not subject their dogs to this foolishness we call a school district!!!


November 3rd, 2011
11:24 am

“Choice” is a cleverly chosen word to spin a bad idea. What Kyle is talking about is vouchers to further help the wealthy, while most are left further and further behind. Kind of like Ryan’s inadequate Medicare voucher proposal. The problem with Ga. is more basic—if you literally cut billions of dollars from public education budgets in just a few years while you are giving more state tax cuts to the wealthy then there is no doubt what the result will be. And that would be true if private school budgets suffered comparable draconian cuts, too. The problem with Georgia is a lack of committment to probably the main responsibility of state govt., investing in a quality education for its populace which is in turn the key to attracting hi wage 21st century industries. Ideological flim-flam cannot be a cheap substitute.

Tiberius - Your lightning rod of hate!

November 3rd, 2011
11:31 am

“What good is a $4000 voucher to a parent that can’t come up with the remaining money to pay for a $12,000 a year private school?’

Snark, it’s similar to the answer to the question: “What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?”

A good start . . . ;)


November 3rd, 2011
11:41 am

You cons in the Georgia militia better lawyer up.

The informants will start making cases.

The Snark

November 3rd, 2011
11:42 am

Kyle, you’re asking me for theories? You’re missing the point, dude. How about answering this simple question:

How much would the voucher have to be to enable a lower-income family in Atlanta to send their kid to the nearest private school?

Put it another way: Know of any good private schools costing less than $10,000 a year?

Get real.

Bart Abel

November 3rd, 2011
11:44 am

Kyle at 10:24,

I believe that you redefined the phrase “public education” in your comment. Most think of public education differently than when tax dollars are diverted to private organizations. That would be “privatization”, and as I said, I believe that privatization is the real goal of most high-profile advocates of so-called choice. Your comment reinforces that belief.

Here’s a conclusion from an OECD study on private education throughout the world:

“The bottom line: Private schools – and public schools with student populations from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds – benefit the individual students who attend them; but there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system, as a whole.”

The Snark

November 3rd, 2011
11:45 am

Tiberius: A $4000 voucher is not a start on anything when you can’t come up with the rest of the money, and that includes most families with kids in public school.

Which bring me back to my original point: The voucher craze is being driven by people who want taxpayers to subsidize the private school tuition that they’re already paying. Kyle’s Florida statistics don’t disprove that.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
11:49 am

Snark: “You’re asking for theories?”

Well, that’s all you’re giving me. I gave you stats that a large chunk of the voucher recipients have incomes so low that they qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. So, somehow they’re making it work.

Kyle Wingfield

November 3rd, 2011
11:51 am

Btw, where do you keep getting the numbers $4,000 and $12,000?

Lil' Barry Bailout (Revised Downward)

November 3rd, 2011
12:18 pm

We can’t say with certainty that school choice and vouchers will work on a large scale, but we do know what DOESN’T work. Everything government schools have tried so far.

More government in education, worse educational attainment. The results speak for themselves.


November 3rd, 2011
12:30 pm

The best schools in the world (e.g, Finland) are following the American “government” school model, which stemmed directly from the needs that our founding fathers perceived as not only legitimate, but essential to the preservation of the Republic–an educated populace, which Wingfield and school choice advocates do not really want. They want some people to be educated (their own kids) at the expense of others. The best schools in the United States generally are in places were teacher’s unions are strong. Do you really think teachers join a professional organization (not a union) in Georgia simply to protect their own interests. Most join for the same reason that they chose the profession–for the kids. Only teachers unions fight for the children, or at least all of the children. The rewriting of history and the propaganda in which free market ideology has annihilated the ideals of our nation from its inception is gross and unfortunately pervasive, as long as Gates, Oprah, and other corporation understand that their greatest threat is a generation of kids who can think and see through such lies.


November 3rd, 2011
12:36 pm

Kyle, go grade some AP exams from Florida (in contrast to the nation) or maybe visit a school from Florida. Your understanding might change. Oh, wait. Ideology first, children and reality second. Find the evidence that children attending private schools exceeds that of public school students with the same socio-economic background. It simply does not exist outside of invented propaganda which seems to be the research of choice. The entire assumption of school choice is built upon the notion that private education (for people like my group) exceeds public education (for everyone, mostly people not like my group) is faulty. It is amoral familism and resegregation.