School Choice Advocacy Training Blog Contest Winner!

Inspired by the School Choice Advocacy Training, Rae Harkness submitted the following for our blog contest:

DeKalb parent of two charter school students

DeKalb parent of two charter school students

We are living in our own little spheres of influence – we interact with teachers, administrators, parents, coworkers, neighbors and our children. Through social media, school choice advocates have the potential to connect these spheres of influence and our message will reverberate throughout the state of Georgia and become amplified in the ears of our legislators. The message is this: “Each child in the state of Georgia is unique and is destined to succeed when options are available to meet their educational needs. We will not rest until each child has available a great school of choice!”

An Oasis in the Desert of Education: Ron Clark Academy

Upon arriving at Margaret St. in Atlanta, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the old brick buildings in front of me. Words like Altruismo and Amistad were written above the sturdy gate leading into the school, and the faces of a few smiling children could be seen inside the facilities.  I thought that I could hear music from the outskirts of the building, but I dismissed the thought as a song that was stuck in my head from the car ride. Immediately after opening the doors, I found myself joyfully proved wrong.

Music was playing, and the tour guides I expected to shake hands with were actually some of the students themselves. Looking around, I couldn’t help but notice the big blue slide leading from the top floor to my feet, or the colorfully painted walls decorated with pictures of smiling students and teachers. I was surprised as a 4’8’’ middle schooler proceeded to lead me through the history of her school while engaging each of the adults in the room. This girl is not an anomaly at this place, and after touring this oasis in education; it’s obvious that something is different.

Ron Clark Academy

Ron spoke to the kids as if he were training executives, but taught them with a passion beyond comparison. One of the students actually got up and taught the class, finishing the algebraic inequality while clapping along with the mathematical victories of his fellow classmates. This boy was not simply completing the problem, but like Mr. Clark, he was ardently engaging the students as he brought them into the close of the class hour. As the boy asked mathematical trivia, the students responded within seconds at the same time. I had forgotten that I was in one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, as I dived into the passion filled academy of Ron Clark.

I had forgotten that I was in one of the most prestigious schools in the nation, as I dived into the passion filled academy of Ron Clark.

These students, these kids, and the teachers themselves are authentically passionate and it pours out into the classroom. Ron Clark has not simply done it right, he has done it phenomenally well. Education has certainly been a battlefield for unenthused students and discouraged educators, since many gifted students soar through classes and the rest get lost in the crowd. At Ron Clark, the gifted students set the pace in each class, and the rest of the class is pushed to hit that academic mark. This feat would be considered a fool’s endeavor in most academic environments, but there it is the norm. That’s right, students from across the intellectual field not only hit the bar set by the gifted students, but they raise it. The classrooms are teeming with students who struggled in the classroom and students who excelled in their schools, yet it was near impossible to tell who was who.

The students clap and cheer as each question is answered successfully, while engaging joyfully with their teacher. It was a rare time when a question was answered incorrectly, but when it happened, the student body turned to encourage their fellow classmate. The class atmosphere was filled with laughter and enthusiasm as drums were beat to the tune of success. There wasn’t a single student who could be found disengaged from the teacher, as they were all decoding and solving the problems in unison. The classroom sounded more and more like a chorus as the students symphonically engaged the subject. I was lost in wonderland, but Mr. Clark has proved that wonderland is real, and he has invited everyone to come be a part of his revolution in academics.

 It was a rare time when a question was answered incorrectly, but when it happened, the student body turned to encourage their fellow classmate.

Thank you for helping us reach our goal and increasing our impact!

Thank you to the generous donors who helped us reach our most recent fundraising goal of $87,000, unlocking an additional $87,000 in matching funds to support Georgia Center for Opportunity. These funds are already being used to promote success in the areas of employment, family stability, and education – the three key areas that dramatically increase the odds an individual will a flourishing life.

You’re helping to remove barriers to opportunity and changing the lives of individuals and families throughout the state by giving them the tools and resources they need to succeed. Your investment in GCO helps students access the education that meets their needs, helps individuals find and maintain employment, and helps strengthen families and marriages.

When we’re successful, fewer Georgians will be living in a condition of dependence, a higher percentage will be enjoying earned success and the fruits of their labor, more children will be ready for college and a career, and more families will have the economic and relational resources to thrive.
We look forward your continued partnership. You can stay informed on the impact of your gifts by subscribing to GCO email updates and following us on Facebook.

2016 Legislative Recap

The 2016 legislative session came to a close about half past midnight on the morning of March 25th. After 40 legislative days of battling over policy priorities, members of the House and Senate ended the year with cheering and tossing torn paper like confetti in the chambers.

Georgia passed a version of the ABLE Act, modeled after the federal version which passed in 2014. The new law provides for tax-free savings accounts to cover qualified disability expenses such as housing, education, or transportation, while also not affecting a disabled person’s eligibility for social security or food assistance benefits.

Tax credits for rural health care:
Modeled after the successful Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides education choice to more than 13,000 students, a new tax credit was created to help provide healthcare in rural Georgia. The new law allows individuals and corporations to receive a credit for donating to a rural health care organization, defined as a nonprofit that must treat patients who are indigent or on Medicaid or Medicare, and must be located in a rural county. Credits are capped at $50 million in the first year (2017), $60 million in year two, and $70 million in year three.

After three years of trying, the General Assembly passed one of their top priorities: a Religious Freedom bill. The bill mirrored language from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and adopted by dozens of states, requiring government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion. It also included a clause saying it could not be used to allow discrimination already banned by state or federal law. However, Georgia’s business community weighed in, asking Governor Deal for a veto, with threats of relocating if it were to become law. Ultimately, Governor Deal vetoed the bill, saying it was unnecessary and did not reflect Georgia as a “warm, friendly and loving people.”

A new law was created with the intention of helping children in the foster care system (or helping them to avoid it altogether). The law prioritizing placing children with family members or kinship caregivers for a short time, when it is in their best interest. It also gives a legal framework for families to grant Power of Attorney to these relatives or caregivers who are temporarily caring for the children.

Governor Deal announced during his State of the State address in January that he was holding off the pursuit of his large education reform package until 2017 to give the legislature and the education community more time to fully vet the proposal. This signaled that it would be a lighter year than usual for education legislation. However, a few bills were introduced and fewer still saw final passage.

All teachers (and other state employees) saw a 3% raise included in the budget.
A bill passed (but has not yet been signed by the Governor) that reduces the percentage of student achievement that factors into a teacher’s evaluation from 50% to 30% and reduces the number of in-classroom observations for some teachers. HB 364l could also make Georgia the only state in the nation with statewide testing in grades 1-12. The Governor has until Tuesday, May 2nd to sign or veto the bill.

A bill to create a new tax credit scholarship program for low/middle income children.
A bill, called “Junior GI”, to give children of military families scholarships for use during K-12 years.
A bill to give children eligible for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship more flexibility in how they use their scholarship dollars.

GCO is making headlines in the first quarter of 2019

GCO is proud to be a leading the way in the creation of school choice programs, state and national welfare reform, plus expanding Georgia’s labor force and business opportunities. Here are some of the conversations GCO has recently participated in: