Vouchers: Defunding Education While Privatizing Police

Editors Note: Our Contributors at Peach Pundit express their own opinions and are free to do so long as they do not engage in slander or defamation. The following post is the opinion only of the author and is not shared by the Editor and Publisher or other contributors to this site. In fact, multiple contributors to Peach Pundit, including the Editor and Publisher, have worked in favor of the passage of the legislation mentioned in this post.

Not undone by his failure with Rivian, in the past week, the Governor seems to have embraced yet another boneheaded idea, this time regarding education. He revisited the voucher idea that called my state representative to trade her party identity. He’s trailing Mississippi now in expanding Medicaid, his Mayoral lapdog was protested out of SXSW because of the folly around Cop City, and his exploitation of a pretty white girl’s death in Athens isn’t getting him the numbers he’d hoped for going into a Senate race, so he needed some win this legislative session to make him appear like he’s relevant on the national stage. I sat through Punchbowl News coverage of his proselytizing private equity last week and all I could think of was, ‘How did we end up with this idiot who just keeps perpetuating Georgia’s problems rather than solving them?’ You may prefer to think of healthcare, private equity, tech, education, and immigration as unrelated, but I’m hoping that we can all walk and chew gum at the same time as I explain how and why they are all intertwined. This voucher idea isn’t harmful solely to urban public schools (like the one my child attends) but to rural schools as well….Hence why the measure failed last year. God bless those rural legislators! Today, the measure only succeeded in the House by one vote! Now Peach Pundit has provided ample opportunity for Rep. Mesha Mainor to espouse her views, I’d like to explain IN DEPTH why I, as her constituent, will not be voting for her and why I’ve previously been retained to give my professional expertise to her opposition. This issue has galvanized me, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar that this will be a central issue in the upcoming Senate race. The race in HD 56 isn’t just professional; it is personal to me. So too, the voucher debate is not some ivory tower idea either- it affects my kid’s school and my hometown area. Curl up with a strong version of your beverage of choice as I walk you through some of my professional experience on the history of tech here in the state, how private equity the Governor is touting devalues my neighborhood schools, and some alternatives to doing all of the above. 

First- a disclaimer: I was contracted by Friends of Ada for the beginning of Adalina Capuli Merello’s HD 56 campaign in the Democratic Primary. This is my district, and this piece is written with the personal and professional bias that I have. I make no apologies for that. As soon as I saw Rep. Mainor’s vote last year, I began reaching out to friends within the Democratic party to offer support for anyone who would run against her. I didn’t appreciate Rep. Mainor’s previous stances on police, yet understood that it came from a place of her experience of having a stalker (who is seeking to be her general election opponent). But the voucher bill was a bridge too far for me. 

I also will say I welcome the discussion the HD 56 race brings to my area and the state because of all of the layers the discussion brings. First, in my immediate area, we can discuss the decade or so of challenges APS schools have had, yes? And don’t families in my area deserve the best? Absolutely! But I cannot heap on the complaints with APS. I have none. Honestly. My kid may hate school, but I chalk that up to teenage angst, rather than shortcomings of a school system. Instead, I’ve found their practices to be exceeding the expectations I had for these reasons:

  1. Every kid in APS has a trauma assessment when they come into the school system. Whether they go to North Atlanta or Therrell. This trauma can come from neglect, abuse, the death of a family member, displacement, or eviction, you name it- it affects a child’s ability to learn and APS tries to be informed about it. That assessment informs the school’s approach to the child and provides a case-by-case basis for their education and discipline. For some, there are also crisis plans for what educators and support staff are to do when a child acts out. This is to inform everyone around the child what the child responds to and how to de-escalate the situation. 
  2. APS approaches literacy with a science of literacy approach. This is relatively new, and it is based on the decades of failure following other methods nationally. This approach is seeing significant improvement in scores. 
  3. The two previous points are a part of the ‘whole child’ approach APS takes, which also includes social skills and emotional developmental learning. I know some folks balk at this idea that educators are teaching more than math and reading, but if you’ve encountered anyone under the age of 30 lately, you probably have recognized a greater need for learning how to:
    1. Stand and shake hands when being introduced
    2. Make eye contact
    3. Have a conversation that is more than “yeah”
    4. How to handle inevitable conflict & disagree agreeably
    5. How to articulate a point
    6. How to meet others where they are in speech and tone
    7. How to manage big emotions
    8. What social norms exist
    9. When and where to employ certain social norms

You might accurately assert these are things that should be taught in the home, and while I completely agree, I’m also fully aware that because Georgia doesn’t provide more family leave, more safety net to parents living on the financial edge, and continues to drag its feet on Medicaid expansion, parents who work shift jobs don’t have as much time to provide the quality time needed for rearing children. I wish we did. Personally, my husband and I both work from home and have better jobs than many of our neighbors. And at the end of every day, I’m drained. Add in for us the navigation required of DFCS, and Medicaid for coverage of kiddo’s meds and doctors’ appointments, and I’m doing good most days to see about myself!

I’m grateful that APS provides social-emotional learning goals because while I’d love to expect all parents to provide home-training, I also see how much my neighbors are juggling while surrounded by a failing transit system and no cars, unmaintained sidewalks that make walking hazardous, the regular bullshit we all experience with Amerigoup as Georgia’s contracted Medicaid provider, and within a state that stifles unions and whose “at-will” stance lines the pockets of many a Libertarian tech guru yet gives no grace to the mother caring for her mother and her child simultaneously. 

The state legislature started 14 years ago by egregiously cutting the state education budget by $1.15B. Unfortunately, the cutting of our education budget years ago was never fully reinstated AND we’ve never meaningfully reformed QBE.  At the time, many wondered, ‘What will happen to our children?’

But we know, now, don’t we? 

We’ve incarcerated them. 

Any kid without resources who didn’t get emotional or social support at home grew up to be an angry and misunderstood adult who goes on a shooting spree in Midtown because when he seeks support we are unwilling to provide due to the fact we haven’t expanded Medicaid ARE FALLING BEHIND MISSISSIPPI in Medicaid expansion. Or, we’ve arrested rather than rehabilitated because we’d rather have a few more dollars in our pockets than a future workforce. We’re getting good at cutting our noses off to spite our faces, aren’t we? 

We’ve put those kids who grew up in homes with family members who died waiting on state-supported Medicaid or were working when the state should have been shut down into jobs with little reading comprehension and when they lash out, we’ve placed them in the private prisons that uphold rural economies and provide good, reliable jobs to people in Rome, Alto, Trion, and McRae- Helena. Meanwhile, we’ve simultaneously reduced our available workforce even after Governor Deal banned the box. God help us, who’s going to be available to do the work the kids in the private schools don’t want to do? I’d say immigrants, but our Governor wants to ‘round them up’ in his pickup, right? Thankfully the other guy’s deportation bus broke down. So what’s the alternative? And give Governor Kemp and Senator Robertson time; they’ll undo all of the judicial reforms that were Deal’s legacy- enough to dig this state into a grave of income gaps across the state rather than just my city. So much for having a workforce. You can’t get a job if you gotta check that box.

But go ahead, y’all- let’s give those private schools more public money and let them eat like pigs at the trough! Georgia’s open for business, and that seems to include being open to sacrificing our kids’ futures. My bet is they raise tuition by the amount of the voucher to keep the poor kids out.

Meanwhile, back in my hometown area, I had a lot of home training, but the local school district is still Title I. And while the Mayor of Monroe, John Howard, cultivates an arts community that is revitalizing the area and making my hometown more inclusive, taking money away from public schools probably isn’t going to get him a better workforce or a more tech-ready student population. And that’s a true shame because while in the Miller Leadership Institute’s inaugural class, I learned that Augusta University was trying to fill the gap of some unGodly number of cyber-security jobs. In the years since, I’ve seen the widening gaps in jobs like medical examiners, school bus drivers, and other non-college-required fields.

I tried some years ago to connect the Superintendent of Taliaferro Schools, Allen Fort, to Augusta University because he had the foresight to invest heavily in materials in Taliaferro’s schools to prepare his students for more tech jobs. I value people who take challenges head-on rather than falling to the mean. I’m not sure where Taliaferro falls on testing now, but like other rural counties (Quitman & Echols, come to mind as well) I am unaware of a private option in the county, so while vouchers can funnel funds from MACHS and Social Circle City Schools to GWA, this voucher bill continues to leave counties like Taliaferro, SOL. But for the public schools that have planned….Taliaferro and Walton Counties may be surrounded by fields, yet kids will grow where you plant them. If we plant the seeds of future upward mobility in Georgia’s schools, we will reap a better harvest than what we’ve seen before. 

And that’s what we want, right? Something better for our kids than what we have.

Well then, I’m going to need the legislature to roll up their sleeves and do some soul-searching because the reality is, we’re sowing more harm than good, y’all.

The private equity foolishness the Governor was touting is having significant negative effects on our healthcare and affordable housing. It’s closing rural hospitals in other states. Why would we invite that here? How will this help rural Georgians in their hours of need other than potentially closing more hospitals that are needed in the “Golden Hour”? This means worse healthcare numbers in a state that needs all the help it can get to address our maternal mortality challenge. I’m all for investment in a community, but private equity is really only in it for the fund, not actually re-establishing a successful hospital. I’d love to hear what the Grumpy Old Man thinks about private equity and more hospital closings in Georgia.

 More immediately to the issue of education, private equity owns a significant number of homes in Atlanta and has become an investment plan for Wall Street. Instead of helping Atlanta families, it’s forcing some Black families out of their homes. And in case we think evictions happen only in Atlanta, here’s a piece on evictions of Black families in rural America. So while the Governor opened the session this year by talking about workforce housing as a serious priority, he speaks with the DC press about ways to undercut it. It’s hard to see how the words and actions match. And we all remember what funds schools, right? So imagine how this has impacted APS. Imagine how this displacement compounds the challenges educators face each day. Remember that trauma assessment? Here’s how the Governor directly impacts it. And what does this render for Georgia teachers? 

Maybe the Governor is happy to give Georgia teachers a bonus on occasion, but hopefully, they’re discerning enough to know he’s robbing Peter to pay Paul by undercutting their major funding source when he speaks to DC elite press circles in his climb to Pennsylvania Ave. I have a hunch Senator Ossoff will have a lot of material to work with for his Senate re-election. 

And then there’s my state rep. *sigh*

I’d like to think she’s doing this “for the children.” But my experience tells me otherwise. First, I’ve been previously contracted by a charter school, I’ve sat at the tables where the Georgia Chamber discussed intervening in small-town Board of Education races, and I worked as an Executive Director of a nonprofit that originated as a means of altruistic tax evasion for the uber-wealthy in Atlanta. I’m generally tired of these trickle-down theories that never work in application and end up penalizing parents (mothers, namely) leaving them tired, broke, and not promising a better future for our kids. I reside in a rapidly gentrifying area and my kid attends a school that was previously on the lowest-performing list. I also remember when Courtney English and Councilmember Matt Westmoreland sat on APS’s Board of Ed and gave a no-bid contract to Governor Deal’s education guru, Erin Hames while she was still working for Governor Deal. There’s a saying oft quoted by Southern women: “You don’t have to love for money, but you can love where the money is”. I cannot say that people in this state are drawn to vouchers, charter schools, and private schools because they are directly on the payroll (although many are), but I can say we’d all be utter fools to believe the money that flows into these races doesn’t influence things.

Maybe another day we’ll discuss Shirley Franklin’s involvement with Purpose Built Communities, APS redoing various land and assets to mirror a private-public partnership, her recent unification with the anti-train group regarding the Beltline, and how all of this lines the pockets of the wealthy on the backs of the poor, but for now, just know privatizing education may benefit kids, but it sure as hell benefits investors. 

Again, I’m assuming Peach Pundit readers can walk and chew gum at the same time. 

But let’s just put aside all of the history of money, inside baseball, classicism, racism, and the general lack of public good public education has evolved. Let’s put some rose-colored glasses on and say that all of that doesn’t exist and we live in a world of clover and unicorns and look at the application of vouchers. Why should I be against it? Wouldn’t I prefer to choose where my money goes and wouldn’t my kid benefit from my control of those funds?

If only all problems could be solved by throwing money at it

Some time ago I wrote about how foster kids are, on average, 18 months behind other children in their grade, remember? In my foster kid’s case, to close that gap, we use a third-party state-contracted tutor to help FK in math. FK LOVES her-still hates math- but LOVES the tutor! This tutor reminds FK of an older sister, and this positive association with the tutor has given FK newfound confidence in math AND yet another positive adult around FK! Win-WIN! Before a recent court hearing, I inquired with the tutor if she could be privately retained. Another child in our neighborhood was also struggling in math, and welcomed the opportunity to learn from FK’s tutor. His parents were willing and able to pay for the tutoring, so I inquired. Unfortunately, this tutor can ONLY be contracted through MAAC- even if I or this other parent had the voucher funds, or our own funds currently, neither of us can hire her directly. And I’m not personally willing to sacrifice what’s working for my kid to satisfy my Governor’s quest for a higher office. 

Further, even if I could get the tutoring handled and if I wanted to send my kid to another school, FK has established relationships and disruptions create challenges for kids. I’m trying to smooth things out at this point, not trying to throw something new in the mix. Additionally, the school that FK attends has been taken off the list of lowest-performing schools. This is both a good thing and an indicator of future challenges. Remember that part about the state cutting funding for schools years ago and never replacing the funding it cut again? Well, as a newly minted parent, I’ve found out that to fill these gaps the legislature created, schools across Georgia have created foundations. Because as areas like mine rapidly gentrify, the kids that can remain in an area, need extra support, which the school no longer receives funding for, private foundations have to fill those gaps. And who is funding these private foundations? Why parents like me and my spouse, of course! This makes YET ANOTHER BURDEN FOR US TO BEAR BECAUSE GOVERNOR KEMP CANNOT BUY A CLUE. 

I need the Governor to stop digging this hole for Georgians. Admittedly we can get the requisite back hoe from Caterpillar just outside of Athens. That was a Governor Deal deal, but I digress. Governor Deal was trying to build us a platform to crawl out of it and instead of building on the platform by expanding Medicaid or continuing the efforts of criminal justice reform,  our foundation has collapsed, and we’re digging deeper instead of rebuilding. 

This is insane. Georgia has leaders around the state who recognize none of these current challenges are being resolved by the Governor’s actions, right? Whether it’s economic development, an aversion to Medicaid expansion, affordable housing, Cop City, or education, how far are we going to follow this man? The militarization of police and building more prisons around me is cutting off our workforce and means of economic mobility. Under Ralston Georgia made significant improvements in addressing mental health and a natural corollary would be the expansion of Medicaid. Just like Ralston’s successor, Jon Burns, was attempting to do. And y’all, I’d love to hang some hope on my Mayor, but Dickens seems to be unable to lead ants to a picnic.. 

Our low scores in education aren’t because the schools or kids are bad but because we’re heaping more and more on teachers without providing support to families or educators. The only way out of this isn’t to push it away or divide us further into cops and robbers, but to live in a relationship with one another. Candidly, even when we don’t wish to admit we’re all in this together- we are. Labeling and othering people is just another excuse we use to flatter ourselves with in thinking we have no obligation to one another or that we can live in a life separate from one another. In fact, we already try to draw closer together. Even as areas gentrify-as parts of Atlanta are- the very kids who should be getting the support lose it unless there’s already some private safety net of a foundation in place to save them or, they move to another district. 

I’m not sure where the idea came from that children aren’t all our responsibility to raise and educate. That seems like a very narrow way to view the world. Maybe I didn’t birth them, but if I don’t love the folks around me-kids and adults, show them they are valued, how will they know to value themselves or one another? How do we teach another way? So when we’re calling some school “bad” or “lower-performing” we’re really reflecting upon our own involvement in the world around us. That’s some messed up us vs. them division that I just don’t buy into.

To me, this is the thought process that perpetuates that some children are worth a certain type of education or investment and other children aren’t. I’m not convinced that works to render a positive result. Someone will have to explain that to me like I’m five.

I’m not saying any of these topics I’ve raised are easy nor am I saying that certain issues don’t demand a more constant interaction than others. But isn’t that what we’re called to do, as adults? Aren’t we called to rise above and raise up a child to teach them in the way they are to go? I feel like Jesus said something about this.

And this is why I feel the way I do about issues like family leave, childcare at work, and expanding Medicaid. When we care for parents and children, we care for communities. I feel like labeling, dividing, and defunding is the easy way out with only certain folks ending up on top. The challenge I see before me is the call to be in a relationship with one another. And that call requires me to be a better person-is that too much to ask of legislators? To advocate for what our fellow humans need? Frankly, I think it is easier for legislators to take the path they have to absolve themselves of the responsibility of governing Georgia’s resources because then they shelve any responsibility they have to their fellow humans. But if we all take this approach, how do we change the prison pipeline we supported Governor Deal in dismantling? Y’all remember that tree planting metaphor he used in the last state of the state?

If we want to reduce Georgia’s challenges in the future, we have to make investments and roll up our sleeves today. I am. And I will continue to vote accordingly. I’ll also bet there are many more in Georgia-rural and urban- that feel the way I do as well. I hope the Senators know that and bargain well for their votes in the Conference Committee.

2 Replies to “Vouchers: Defunding Education While Privatizing Police”

  1. I’m just here to say we should all be rooting for Rivian, as an American manufacturing success story. On top of that, we should be hoping that they survive & thrive enough to actually build that plant here in GA. Not sure why anyone would consider Gov. Kemp’s work to attract Rivian to Georgia a, “failure.”

    1. Hey- thanks for pointing this out about Rivian and for highlighting a super small point in my piece that I should have expounded more upon. I appreciate you bringing attention to it.

      The reason I call Rivian a failure is that, well, that’s kind of how economic development works- we try really hard to attract companies by rolling out the red carpet, and then either they choose us or they don’t. That’s why it’s a riskier game than say, focusing on the business environment that enables small businesses to scale here. There’s been much analysis about whether or not various projects are worth the sacrifice to communities they are to inhabit. Often, like the Braves moving to Cobb, the economic success is felt long after the legislators and economic development teams who made the hard decisions to put it into place. I feel like Governor Kemp and other legislators know this and take my criticisms with a grain of salt. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m throwing salt on a wound, but I’d bet the Governor doesn’t care a flip about what I write. My criticism is meant less personally and more in what I talk about later in the piece- about the communities that are affected by various legislative decisions in terms of education, healthcare, and how this all impacts us economically. While I root for American business and for rural Georgia, I’m not so easily seduced by big project ideas. Give me the small mom-and-pops that scale up over time. That’s probably too boring for others, but where I grew up, Buckles Hardware, Covered Wagon BBQ, and Brown Oil Company were also the companies that sponsored little leagues and the church chicken stew fundraisers.

      I’m not unusual in Georgia in this regard either. I intended to write about this in my piece, but didn’t for time and brevity- reinvestment in business in GA. Some years ago I looked into start-ups here, which involve the tech industry and incubators. Friends in those spaces were gracious enough to me to explain how different states have cultures that either reinvest or don’t in new business. Georgia’s investor class likes real estate as a solid investment plan, which speaks to the private equity-influenced real estate market here in Atlanta. However, my friends who’ve done incubators and pitch contests in NY and California have found that those states have a culture of reinvestment that they haven’t seen take hold in Georgia. So basically, Californians who make it big then feel an obligation to reinvest in the next generation of start-ups and so on, creating this generational investment class. We don’t seem to have that in Georgia, in part probably because our bankruptcy laws are more rigid here than on the West Coast. This gets us our AAA bong rating, but it doesn’t allow for as much of a dynamic market for industry here. I think that’s an area of policy Georgia could change to make projects like this more viable in our state. But that is even riskier than tax abatements, and I don’t see many visionary leaders in Georgia, to be candid.

      Additionally, because it isn’t clear from your comment that you read further (you may have, I don’t know), I’m originally from Walton County, one of the counties that would have benefited from this project. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time since 2014 writing here on this blog about rural economic development and how things might have been different for me growing up if other decisions had been made (CON elimination, more economic support for rural hospitals and rural broadband to name a few topics I’ve covered). I moved from Walton County for more economic opportunity, better medical care, an arts community, and public transit, and I know I’m not the only one who has made the move from rural to urban in the last 20 years in Georgia. And aside from Walton County being my hometown area, it also used to be (I’m not sure anymore) a VERY red county where the local GOP BBQ, hosted by Chair Roy Roberts (whose wife taught me music in elementary school) used to be a legislative event because so many actual voters showed up that legislators enjoyed coming to interact with the party base. So losing this project isn’t just an economic loss, this is also a loss for a very loyal base. I doubt Governor Kemp has any concerns he will lose votes to Ossoff in Walton, but the loss did probably dim his shine a bit.

      Personally, I wish that policymakers would see economic development more in terms of what I discussed later in the piece- education, schools, medical care, available and trained workforce- low taxes are certainly a part of why businesses and people move to an area, but they’re not the exclusive reasons, right? And if the Governor is trying to drive more business and people to see the value in rural Georgia, his push for this voucher bill just further undercut every rural school district- many of which don’t even have a private school option. I don’t understand this logic, but I also haven’t seen many legislators who think far beyond their election cycles.

      And ultimately no matter what I think, this horse is out of the barn and the only recourse left at this point is what I alluded to in the last sentence. I hope those rural Senators know their power in making or breaking this legislation and I hope they bargain LIKE HELL for whatever their districts need in exchange for it. To do anything other than that would be to give away their power and I hope they don’t sacrifice it for a Governor who’s focusing more time on getting to DC than what is happening in their districts.

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