Group founded by Michelle Rhee funds governor’s field trip to New Orleans.

Update at 12:15: The Georgia House on Wednesday will vote on Gov. Nathan Deal’s top education initiatives, a last-minute change made in the Rules Committee. Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287 were added to today’s floor debate calendar this morning after failing to make it out of Rules on Tuesday. It was added to the list over Democrats’ objections.

Back to blog:

On the political front this morning, there’s both good and bad news for Gov. Nathan Deal’s bruising campaign to win support for his Opportunity School District.

First, the AJC reports Deal ignored his own executive order banning most gifts from lobbyists and let a pro-charter schools group and top contributor to the state GOP, StudentsFirst, to underwrite for a legislative fact-finding trip to New Orleans last month. StudentsFirst was founded by former Washington, D.C. chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Is the state takeover in New Orleans a workable model for Georgia? (AJC File Photo)

The governor took a field trip to New Orleans to see the post-Katrina schools and allowed StudentsFirst to pick up the tab.  (AJC File Photo)

This bending of the gift rules is just one indicator of how important Deal views his proposal to create a state district to absorb failing schools. When the House Education Committee voted Monday on the resolution and bill to create the district, the chairman allowed former committee members to vote, a practice that seemed to have fallen out of favor due to the obvious ethical questions.

Clearly, the governor is not taking any chances. Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287 was supposed to reach the House floor Friday, but now will be voted on today. The package has already passed the state Senate.

On the brighter side for the governor, DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond offered qualified support Tuesday for Deal’s proposal to seize control of failing schools, of which 25 DeKalb schools now qualify.

But Thurmond wants the plan to exclude failing schools showing improvement. If that change was made, DeKalb would only have two schools left on the failing list.

While it may make sense to exempt schools on an upward trajectory, an exemption for schools showing progress would dramatically reduce the statewide list of 137 failing schools, thus defeating the purpose of the state launching its own district.

(Speaking of the state creating its own district, I will post later today a look at the district the state now runs – the schools that serve 7,000 kids in detention centers around the state.)

There is a lot of debate already underway on the MyAJC story on StudentsFirst paying for Deal and company to visit schools in New Orleans. (The AJC sent three staffers on the trip, but picked up the costs.)

The AJC reported:

The two-day trip for Deal and other officials, estimated to cost $14,336, offers fresh evidence of how elastic Georgia’s ethics policies can be in the hands of the elected officials who make them.

Deal’s office claims the trip was allowed despite the governor’s own executive order that limits lobbyist gifts to $25. The order, signed his first day in office and intended to set an example for state government, places strict limits on lobbyist spending for executive branch staff. Food, travel and other expenses paid for by lobbyists are only allowed when they “permit the employee’s participation in official or professional duties” and even then, the order says, “the preferred practice is for agencies and not third parties to pay such expenses.”

But Deal looked to StudentsFirst, a California-based nonprofit, to pay for himself, five staffers, nine legislators, and State School Superintendent Richard Woods to got to the Crescent City and promote his proposed education reforms. StudentsFirst paid for the travel, the hotel, a charter bus and meals — including dinner at New Orleans’ famous Galatoire’s restaurant.

“The executive order governing us clearly allows for outside support of this type advocacy for official policy,” said spokesman Brian Robinson.

Robinson said Deal has never before relied on a lobbyist to pay for an out-of-town trip, and said the governor’s $6 million budget does not include money for this sort of travel.

 

Reader Comments 0

72 comments
HarryCrews
HarryCrews

Perhaps an AJC reporter should ascertain if Kyle Wingfield attended the dinner at Gallatoire's. I asked the same question and was banned from his blog by your resident John Bircher Andre Jackson.



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The voters will approve it, based on its wording.  And, in a few years, the AJC will do an expose of the way the books have been cooked to show "incredible improvement" in the schools taken over.  And then, those who cheered for it will either 1) refuse to admit the cooking/manipulation or 2) say the entrenched "teachers union" made it happen, or 3)  blame the race of someone involved.  Count on it.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


Give me the powerball numbers for this week and I'll believe that you can predict the future.

EdUktr
EdUktr

On behalf of Georgia parents, thank you Ms. Rhee for any role you played in the passage of this legislation.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@EdUktr


Ms.. Rhee has admitted to taping her students' mouths shut and even seems to think this was an amusing story to share during her speeches to various reform groups.  If a traditional public school teacher admitted to taping students'  mouths shut many of those who are advocating for the reform movement would be up in arms and demanding someone be fired (And rightly so...)  So why does Rhee get a pass from so many in the reform movement?  

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

of this type advocacy" Advocacy--their admission.  Guilty, guilty, guilty.  More honey for the pot.  All aware of the source of the funding should resign.


When will Georgians ever learn?  An old dog has the same old tricks (or ticks?  which is it?), no matter what the proclamation he makes says.  Those rules are for the "little people."And on his first day in office, no less!  It did not take long.


How much did this company give to the reelection campaign?  And what do they expect in return?  An "educated" leadership?


And Michelle Rhee? Every bit the lying cheat B Hall was accused of being.


BTW, I believe the plural of lobbyist is lobbyists.  This should also be corrected on the original posting.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady  "And Michelle Rhee? Every bit the lying cheat B Hall was accused of being."


Then indict, try, and convict her!  Maybe she won't die on us before her trial comes up!

Astropig
Astropig

Victory!  1:50 P.M.


A true bi-partisan win for Georgia's students!

EdUktr
EdUktr

@Astropig

Maureen and the teachers' union bosses come up short once again. Congrats to Democrats who ignored party leaders and voted with Georgia's families.

johnstubbs
johnstubbs

Maureen, I greatly enjoyed Cris Joyner article in todays paper. After reading it my major concern, is the possible involvement of Michelle Rhee. The Atlanta Public School criminal conspiracy is coming to a close. The apparent perpetrator, Beverly Hall, is now deceased. Obviously the cost has been tremendous. Michelle Rhee may have done a similar criminal conspiracy in Washington D.C.. I would like for Cris Joyner to do a follow up article on Michelle Rhee that exposes her actions in Washington D.C.


Concerning the ethics of our governor and our state legislators, those are simply lost causes.    

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MaureenDowney 


Thanks for the link.  I just heard state Senator and Senate ProTempore Jan Jones remarks.  I do not trust this legislator.  She is a member of ALEC.  She spear-headed the Special State Charter School Amendment to Georgia's Constitution a couple of years ago, and now she is a leading spokesperson for state take-over of failing schools by the legislature in Georgia.


Jan Jones is a mother of 4 as she first proclaimed and she does live in North Fulton County, Milton district.  But, Jones is not a professional educator, nor are the vast numbers of legislators in Georgia's General Assembly.  She, is, however, an advocate for Republican school choice and stated how many school choices she was interested in seeing happen in Georgia where parents and legislators will be in control of the education of children without being professional educators, themselves. The blind leading the blind, imo. Jones spoke of the low educational statistics in Georgia over the past decade.  I will remind readers that Georgia has been under Republican leadership and the leadership in ALEC in the past decade.  I don't buy the Republican plan for profit-making and free enterprise in public education where students and teachers become pawns of capitalists.


If Jan Jones supports this bill, I am against it.  Too many political strings for my educational heart.

Astropig
Astropig

@MaryElizabethSings @MaureenDowney


Brook Coleman's closing remarks were brilliant. His analogy about an unfit restaurant was devastating.It was like watching John Smoltz come in to set down the other team 1-2-3.



MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MaureenDowney 


Senate Minority Speaker, Stacey Abrams, graduate of Yale, was most impressive. So was another black caucus member who laid out the unfettered power which will be held in education in this state through the last Constitutional Amendment and then through this upcoming one.


"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."  ALEC's power wins, again, in Georgia.  One day the people will see.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MaureenDowney 


I don't agree with Brooks Coleman politically, but I actually liked him as an individual when I talked with him a few moments under the Golden Dome, a few years back.


I want him to know that I wish him well, in his retirement from Georgia's Legislature.  Bon Voyage, Mr. Coleman.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Excuse me for going off topic, Maureen, and you may take this down if you wish, but I felt it was an important response to the question of poverty several posts ago:


Minimize poverty?  No, we only say that poverty and bad educational outcomes are correlated, but we all know that correlation does not prove causation.  Being poor does not cause you to have bad educational outcomes - I am living proof of that.  What we have been trying to get across is that it is the CAUSES of poverty that cause bad educational outcomes.  If a person is "poor" because they have decided to be a single bread-winner family (with stay-at-home mom) and have a lot of kids, but care about their education and the mom is involved and read to the kids every night and provide homework help and ensure their kids attend school - these kids will have good educational outcomes, despite their "poverty".


On the other hand, if the poverty is caused by a teenage mom with no father present, who doesn't care about her children's education - these kids will have poor educational outcomes.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

Unfortunately, in this case I feel like the AJC is trying to light a fire under a situation that is really not a situation. If the House Minority Leader and the Democratic Caucus doesn't think Deal broke any ethics violations, then who is clamoring for justice besides the newspaper?    While I take issue with many of Michelle Rhee's actions and positions on policy, I don't think there's any controversy here.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to know Michael Thurmond's definition of "making progress".  Does that mean an increase in graduation rate from 24.5% to 24.6%?


How about "significant progress"?  I could more easily support that.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@class80olddog That was mentioned at one of the hearings, but the challenge would be defining "significant," according to the bill's sponsor. It seems they want to keep the language open-ended.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog  If you keep the language "open-ended", then no failing school will EVER be taken over!  So if a school is "failing" and stays the same for one year or drops in any category, can it be taken over?  I am sure Michael Thurmond would say no - it needs to be longer than that.  Yes - the devil is in the details.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@living-in-outdated-ed 


I don't take your comments as a personal attack, but as an erroneous judgment on your part which I see as an assumption you hold which is based on pre-programmed thinking, which I never simply follow.  I weigh and think for myself, alone.


To make this very clear: I give a link to my extended thoughts on my personal blog in order to share ideas, not to "promote" my blog. You can believe that or not, but it is the truth.  Again, my standards are not those of "most people" or even what you might do.  And, my response to your thinking is not a personal attack, either.  However, my comments were obviously needed for clarification and a statement of truth.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@MaryElizabethSings please don't take this as a personal attack, but in the years I have posted on this blog, I have NEVER promoted one of my own blog posts and sent people to my own blog.  Yes - I've referenced other research posts and blog posts, but never my own.

straker
straker

bu2 - "this was a working trip"


You totally miss both my and Maureen's point about the ethics involved.

bu2
bu2

@straker 

I see them.  They are irrelevant.


The charter district is in New Orleans, so its not like going to Las Vegas to discuss coastal issues.  He's not getting "gifts."  He's getting a tour of something he may want to emulate.


He's not buying services from this group.  Its an advocacy group like Common Cause.


From their website:

Our Mission

StudentsFirst is a nonprofit organization fighting for one purpose: to make sure every student in America has access to great schools and great teachers. We are driven by the belief that every child—regardless of background—can succeed if put in the right school environment. And every day we work to build an education system that makes this possible.




bu2
bu2

@OriginalProf @bu2 @straker 


StudentsFirst doesn't run any schools (from looking at their website).  They promote legislation, not just related to charter schools.  That's where the complaints make no sense.


All Mission statements are somewhat that way.  But here is their Georgia agenda (they also are promoting Common Core):


2015 Priorities

We’re a nonprofit working to ensure that every Georgia child has great teachers and great schools.

This year we will work with thousands of members in the state of Georgia to ensure smarter school spending for better outcomes. In 2015, we'll be working to: 


Make sure that every school and student—no matter their zip code—receives fair and adequate funding.


Give flexibility to local districts to manage their budgets in a way that prioritizes student achievement.


Ensure that every student has the option to attend a great school. This means giving charter schools the funding and facilities that enable them to grow, and holding them accountable for their results.



Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@bu2 @straker  If it was an educational trip to see something he might want to try, then why didn't he pay for it himself? He has an expense account!   Also, if it was only educational - no lobbying or influencing - then he should have no problem telling us where he stayed, where he ate and list any other "goodies" furnished by Students First.  In other words, come clean about all details of the trip. 

Looking4truth
Looking4truth

@OriginalProf @Looking4truth @bu2 @straker  NOLA for Mardi Gras!  I'd love to go, but would have to pay my own way and wouldn't be schmoozed to get my bill supported. 


I agree - why not look at models that are showing success?  Why look at a system with mixed (at best) results?

bu2
bu2

@Looking4truth @OriginalProf @bu2 @straker 


Maybe New Orleans knows what works and what doesn't.


Unless it was during Mardi Gras, New Orleans doesn't have that great a weather in February.  Chilly and rainy for the most part.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@bu2 @straker 

But this news certainly does fuel suspicions that the Governor's real plan is to change as many of Georgia's traditional public schools into charter schools as he can....and charter schools run by companies such as StudentsFirst. Or perhaps that very company?


Btw, that "Mission Statement" is meaningless, high-sounding pablum.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Looking4truth @bu2 @straker 

Also--why visit New Orleans, whose Recovery School District has had mixed success and many critics?  Why not Newark, NJ, which has switched to having all-charter school districts with success, or Highland Park, Michigan, which has changed to all-charters in its school district with accompanyin success?  Of course, in mid-February, a trip to NOLA certainly appeals more.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Looking4truth


I do not believe that the trip to New Orleans was for pleasure purposes, underneath it all.  I believe that New Orleans was chosen because of political reasons based on national Republican agenda priorities of predetermined Republican led states which will follow the same business model to success.  Once one or two states (or three) follow the same model to success, those states will be used as data to persuade other states to use the same business model. Some politicians are more willing to play political ball than others.  It's similar to the line-up of Republican states which would not expand Medicaid in an effort to make the ACA fail.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@bu2 @OriginalProf @straker


They operate under the guise of a non-profit with the "priority" of helping children get a better education and yet they are funded by the same donors who would financially profit by ensuring that our schools are put in the hands of privateers. All of the policies they push (removing teacher tenure/protections, school grades, pushing TFA, charter schools etc...) have been tried without showing the improvements in educational outcomes for our students. What their policies do is ensure that the hedge-fund backers and donors get richer at the expense of our public schools.

Point
Point

Ms. Downey, thank you for looking at data from the detention centers.  Since the state is already overseeing that system, I am very interested in seeing if their program is effective.

yet_another_display_name
yet_another_display_name

What's funny is that proponents of charter schools should be opposing this legislation, not encouraging it.  Charter systems work when they allow good schools to operate and bad schools to close,  simply transferring control of failing schools to yet another bureaucracy does nothing, calling them "charter" schools means nothing, so the entire farce simply makes it harder to get true reform done.