Origins of the Georgia Center for Opportunity: Why we focus on education

Origins of the Georgia Center for Opportunity: Why we focus on education

Origins of the Georgia Center for Opportunity: Why we focus on education

HS students

If you’ve been following the work and mission of the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO), you’ve probably heard us talk about the Success Sequence. It’s a proven model to alleviate poverty that says a good education leads to a stable job, which in turn leads to stronger families that provide the best context for individuals to reach their God-given potential and build thriving communities.  

This is why GCO has long focused on expanding educational opportunities as the key to changing lives and breaking the cycle of generational poverty that has trapped far too many—for far too long.  

Even in the mid-1990s—when we first got involved with charter school legislation—we were keenly aware that while some Georgia students had access to excellent education opportunities, most living in low-income areas did not. And tragically, it’s the kids from low-income families who most often are stuck in failing public schools—setting them up for a lifetime of failure and dependency.

Fast forward to 2007, when GCO played a key role in building on the charter school law to create the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program. As Georgia’s first private choice program, these scholarships allow families to send their special needs children to schools that best meet their academic needs. And the growth of the Special Needs Scholarship has been impressive. As of the 2019-2020 school year, there were 5,203 students in 254 schools across Georgia benefitting from the program—with vouchers averaging $6,838 per student. 

The following year, we were instrumental in working with state legislators to pass the Georgia Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit. This program offers tax credits to corporate and individual donors supporting nonprofit student scholarship organizations (SSOs) that provide private school scholarships to students in need. Now a $100 million program, it, too, has been widely embraced—enabling many children from low-income, working-class, and minority families to attend private schools to better meet their academic needs. As of 2019, 22 SSOs have awarded 16,358 scholarships averaging $4,560—representing 38% of public school spending per student. 

 

 

The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Beyond our schools, GCO has also been a key player for many years to help adults get the training they need to enter the workforce—and stay employed. Through various apprenticeship programs and our Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) program—now called Better Work—we continue to focus on ensuring that students and job seekers have the tools they need to land a job that meets the demands of a rapidly changing workforce. Unique among back-to-work programs, Better Work is a catalyst connecting employers to local and state chambers of commerce, vocational colleges, nonprofits, and churches.

While there’s no doubt that GCO has played a key leadership role in removing barriers so that every person—no matter their race, past mistakes, or birth circumstances—has access to a quality education, fulfilling work, and a healthy family life, there’s still more to do. 

Looking forward, we will continue to call for further expansion of the tax-credit and special needs scholarship programs, which transform lives and are widely embraced by Georgians regardless of socioeconomic status, race, zip code, and political affiliation. 

And we will keep pressing for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), which would offer much-needed flexibility and assistance to students from low-income families, those adopted from foster care, children of active duty military, students with an Individualized Education Program, and those with a documented history of being bullied.

The good news is that Georgians from all backgrounds are clamoring for more educational options. And if there’s a bright spot to the pandemic, it’s that parents—and legislators alike—are more open than ever to creative solutions that provide more quality education options that put people on the path to success for life. 

One recent example is federal funding through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERS), which provides assistance to local educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and other education related entities impacted by the coronavirus. This includes providing child care and early childhood education, social and emotional support, and protection for education-related jobs.

The bottom line is that people want more freedom. And it is education that opens doors to fulfilling work, which impacts individuals for the rest of their life—the Success Sequence in a nutshell.

 

 

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Voted to Cut Charter Schools Program Funding

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Voted to Cut Charter Schools Program Funding

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Voted to Cut Charter Schools Program Funding

middle school charter school

Lawmakers Stifle Learning 

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently voted to cut $40 million from the federal Charter Schools Program, in addition to placing new burdensome restrictions on how charter schools operate. In response, the Georgia Center for Opportunity has signed on to a letter—along with 70 other organizations—urging Congress to restore the funding.

 

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Improve Your Life with a Growth Mindset

Improve Your Life with a Growth Mindset

Improve Your Life with a Growth Mindset

adults learning

Learning keeps you growing

Most people agree that learning is important. I’m just not sure we understand how important it really is. I can still remember as a child believing that I needed to know everything or people wouldn’t think I was smart and capable. I hear kids today (and even adults) saying, “You don’t have to tell me. I know that.” Saying this often enough can make it an automatic response to receiving new information.

There seems to be an inherent desire–starting at a very young age–to already have the knowledge we need to understand the world. It can be even more difficult for children to see the value of learning when our educational system (and usually our parents) place the focus on grades as the most important thing they have to achieve. And learning isn’t only important for kids. While it may start when we’re young, it surely doesn’t end there. If we are wise, we will be learning until the end of our lives.

Learning new information will help us grow personally in a way that allows us to better handle life’s challenges we face every day. As we continue learning into adulthood, it can actually improve our memory and help us relate to new information positively. It may even reduce our chances of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Learning can also help us adapt to new situations with less stress and anxiety. If you struggle to see change as good and prefer that things stay the same, this is a skill that will make your daily life more pleasant. It can also increase your value in the workplace because you’ll be able to easily “roll with the punches”. Learning even changes the way you think about the hard stuff. In short, it helps you embrace a growth mindset.

What is a growth mindset? This simply means you believe your abilities can be improved through dedication and hard work, and that your talents can be developed. It’s about more than just taking in feedback, learning from your experience, and coming up with strategies for improving. It’s also about knowing deep down in your gut that even when you fail at something, you will eventually succeed. In fact, it’s the knowledge that failing will only make you more likely to succeed the next time or the time after that! Every time you fail, your success muscle gets stronger.

Embracing this growth mindset will allow you to bounce back quickly from disappointment because you understand that every failure is an opportunity to learn something new and therefore a stepping stone toward your success. This helps us to be more resilient, and resiliency allows us to cope better with the hard things in life.

 

 

A BETTER life begins with BETTER WORK.

Learning equals confidence

In short, learning will make you more confident in yourself and in your future. Your perspective will change so you begin to see the journey of life differently. I encourage you to take the first step if you haven’t already. Find something new you want to learn today, and do it!

BETTER WORK communities have mentors who are available to walk alongside you during your journey. Visit betteropportunity.org to find out more.

 

Letter: Reimagine how children stay connected to school | THE ROANOKE TIMES

Letter: Reimagine how children stay connected to school | THE ROANOKE TIMES

In The News

Letter: Reimagine how children stay connected to school | THE ROANOKE TIMES

The June 8 Roanoke School Board meeting addressed student learning loss and post-pandemic reorganization.

As a Hollins University student and member of the Roanoke community, I care about access to education.

In my research, I found a study from the Georgia Center for Opportunity, illuminating that while white students have fallen one to three months behind, students of color nationwide have fallen at least three to five months behind in their education during the pandemic.

These results are almost identical to the learning gaps that result from student suspension and barriers to accessing academic support services, including the disproportionate impact on students and families of color…

New Opportunities Open Up For Kids With Special Needs

New Opportunities Open Up For Kids With Special Needs

New Opportunities Open Up For Kids With Special Needs

Helping Marginalized Students Access Quality Education

Mountain Area Christian Academy recently celebrated the passage of the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Expansion bill, also known as SB 47. After Governor Kemp signed SB 47 into law, Mountain Area Christian Academy hosted the Georgia Center for Opportunity, our partner organizations, and the two sponsors of the bill (state Senator Steve Gooch and state Representative Will Wade) to simply say “Thank you.”

SB 47 increases both funding and access to a quality education for students with special needs. The new law helps schools like Mountain Area Christian Academy address exceptional students according to their needs.

I don’t have to tell you how much this pandemic has damaged students’ educational outcomes—particularly for those with special needs—but what I will tell you is that we will not stop fighting for all students.

At the Georgia Center for Opportunity, we believe that this bill is an important first step as we move to help more marginalized communities access quality educational options statewide.

 

The Special Needs Scholarship expansion opens doors to kids not able to access education opportunities. This is a vital first step in efforts to insure that ALL our kids have access to quality education.

BE PART OF BRINGING OPPORTUNITY TO OTHERS!

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