ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Nathan Deal's proposal to take over schools dubbed "chronically failing" appears headed for a vote in the Georgia House of Representatives after securing a key committee's approval on Monday.
Under Deal's plan, an appointed superintendent accountable to the governor could select up to 20 schools each year and 100 maximum to be closed, converted into charters, or subject to a management overhaul. Schools would become eligible if scoring below 60 for three years in a row on the state's index for measuring student performance and growth.
Some minor changes added Monday would allow the superintendent to consider ongoing efforts at improvement when selecting schools for the district.
The constitutional amendment and accompanying legislation already passed the Senate, getting just enough support to meet a two-thirds threshold required for constitutional changes. If the House backs it, the amendment is expected to be on ballots statewide in 2016.
Organizations representing teachers, school boards and other education stakeholders largely opposed the plan. They made their complaints known at an earlier meeting of the House Education Committee that stretched on for more than two hours.
Two Democrats on the committee supported both parts of the proposal, while Republican Rep. Tommy Benton of Jefferson joined those voting 'no' and questioned what the appointed superintendent could do differently.
"If you change the teachers and you change the administration, the only thing you've got left is the same students and the same parents," he said.
Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville and one of Deal's floor leaders carrying both proposals in the House, said new leadership can change expectations and atmosphere in a school.
The committee chairman, Republican Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth, said the proposal should put eligible schools on notice.
"(The committee) visited a lot of schools and we saw some that just won't change," Coleman said. "But this gives the chance for the first time in the history of this state to take those and try to help those children."
Both the amendment and bill now go to the powerful House Rules committee to determine when the full House will consider the proposal. Lawmakers have planned to wrap up the 40-day working session on April 2.
Earlier Monday, opponents of the plan gathered in the Capitol chanting "My school belongs to me" and waving brightly colored posters. Michelle Gutierrez, an 18-year-old senior at Towers High School in DeKalb County, told the crowd that teachers at her school stay after-hours for SAT and ACT exam prep two days a week and are devoted to their students.
The school is among those that could be eligible for inclusion in the state district.
Gutierrez later added that the school has come a long way from when her older sister would tell stories about students getting into fights. Gutierrez said that she has two younger sisters who likely will attend Towers and she wants the school to continue improving for their sake.
"The teachers (and) the new administrators have stopped the riots, they've increased test scores, they've increased graduation rates," she said. "They push us to be on our game, no matter the distractions. They keep us focused."