Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

What next for Georgia Republicans, school reform after OSD's defeat?

The most ambitious attempt to improve failing schools that this state has seen in a long time, maybe ever, went down in flames on Election Day. Matches and gasoline were provided by the teachers unions.

The unions — mostly the National Education Association, but also the American Federation of Teachers, as well as their respective state affiliates — poured at least $5 million into the campaign to defeat the Opportunity School District. For perspective, that’s $50,000 for each of the 100 schools the OSD could have overseen at any given time, or the equivalent of one average teacher salary per potential OSD school.

It was a campaign out of all proportion to the proposal itself . It deserves a disproportionate response.

If any Georgia Republicans are wondering what lesson to take from the OSD’s lopsided defeat, it’s this: The education establishment and teachers unions are not on your side. They never were. And unless you accede to their demand for ever more money with ever fewer strings, they never will be.

Until now, Georgia Republicans have governed otherwise. They have limited the state’s school-choice programs despite overwhelming demand for them. They have refused to expand the tax-credit scholarship program , which runs out of credits in just a single day each year, constraining the number of children who can use it. The special-needs scholarship remains limited after state senators, many of them Republicans, on more than one occasion declined to back an expansion for students in foster and military families. The number of state charter schools remains very modest. A proposal to create an Education Savings Account , modeled after the ones in Arizona and Nevada, went nowhere.

With so many options for expanding school choice, one might think lawmakers representing a super-majority party that trumpets the need for such would manage to deliver something along those lines. Not so, because they labor under the delusion that turning their backs on Georgia’s students and families will earn them the support of the education establishment.

Five million bucks says they’re wrong about that.

If Republican legislators have the courage of their convictions, they won’t shrink back from this defeat. That’s exactly why the unions spent that $5 million, and even more to stop a similarly moderate charter-schools referendum in Massachusetts: not just to stop the current issue but to pre-empt whatever reformers might propose next time.

Will our Republican legislators give them what they want?

Or, instead, will they recognize part of the difficulty in selling the OSD was that there were “only” 68,000 students affected? That with so much doubt sown about the proposal — much of it on false premises — it was easy for voters to decide they didn’t want to risk the parade of horribles coming true when most of them didn’t know anyone who would be helped? That with President-elect Donald Trump pledging to allow school choice with federal dollars, there’s never been a better time to act on the state level?

Next time, aim higher. Next time, aim bigger. Next time, aim to deliver real freedom from the education monopoly.

Just make sure there is a next time.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.