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Georgia School Turnaround Bill Advances

A bill approved by the Georgia Senate on Friday will give the state more power to intervene in schools whose achievement ranks them in the state's lowest-performing 5 percent

The "First Priority Act" will create a new position of "chief turnaround officer," who will work with local districts to boost student achievement in struggling schools. It still needs the approval of the House and a signature from Gov. Nathan Deal to become law. 

If the bill becomes law, it will be a shift to a more collaborative approach on how the state can work with districts to improve low-performing schools. It would also mark a move away from last year's unsuccessful referendum to create an "Opportunity School District," a statewide district that would have had the authority to take over chronically failing schools. The Opportunity School District proposal, which was championed by Gov. Deal, was rejected at the polls in November.

Under the new legislation, if a low-performing school does not improve in three years, the staff can be fired, the school can be turned into a charter, or the district can be required to send students to higher-performing schools, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The turnaround officer will report to the state board of education.

Last year the state school boards association, the teachers' union, and the Georgia Parent Teacher Association all opposed Deal's school takeover plan.

According to the Associated Press, the biggest education groups have remained neutral on the legislation this time around. They attempted, however, to get legislators to make changes to the bill so that the "chief turnaround officer" would be appointed by the state superintendent of education, an elected position in Georgia, and not by the Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor. That effort was not successful, the AP reported.

Legislators have also approved $1 million in start-up funds for the turnaround office. 

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