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Save the children first

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POSTED: April 13, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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Listen to Sen. Johnson discussed what he calls misconceptions about SB 458.

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Some 53,000 children in a single county in Georgia are on the verge of having their future threatened by the inappropriate actions of their Board of Education.
If the Clayton County Schools lose their accreditation, there will be no Pre-K funds or HOPE Scholarships available for the children. Transcripts will be invalid. College applications will be thrown in the trash. This is a disaster.
The State Constitution mandates that schools are under the jurisdiction of locally elected school boards. That prevents the governor or the state Department of Education from moving in —— even temporarily —— with new management. So, unless the board members resign and new elections take place and they dramatically change their ways, the children are penalized. It's unfair.
The Legislature is considering a lifeline for the parents of these children. SB 458 would require that the state funding for each child be offered to the parents as a scholarship that can be used to transfer the child to any public or private school that will accept the student. We estimate that the scholarship will be worth about $4,150 in Clayton County. That will cover a significant portion of private school tuition.
There has been some unrest recently about forcing neighboring schools to accept students with these scholarships. SB 458 has gone through significant changes in its legislative path. A last-minute floor amendment on the Senate did include a clause that would seem to require schools to accept these students subject to space- which is of course defined by the local school system. However, through cooperation with the House, that language has been changed. Receiving schools (public and private) will continue to have the option to accept or decline these students- regardless of the reason. This concept was in the original version of the bill, and it will remain in the final edition.
Clayton's children aren't the only ones being placed at risk by poorly run school administrators. There are 19 schools in Georgia that have been on the Needs Improvement" list for 7 or 8 years in a row. It is time to admit that the children in the schools need help and the time for excuses has run out. SB 458 would also require scholarships be offered to these children as well.
Some say this violates the principle of local control. But, if the local elected officials have clearly failed in their duties, real local control should shift to the parents. This is their money. These are their children. And they should have the right to choose the best educational environment for your child - particularly when the system has clearly failed.
If the Titanic were sinking and there weren't enough lifeboats, we would put the children in them first. Save the children first and then worry about who hit the iceberg!

Johnson, whose district covers much of Liberty County, is president pro tem of the Senate. 

 

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