by Angel O. Torres and Yolande M. S. Tomlinson
Education has been a pivotal issue for Black, brown, and Indigenous peoples in their struggles for human rights in the U.S. Over the last five decades, however, the attack strategy has been to defund and privatize public goods and resources such as housing, healthcare, transportation, and education. In particular, charter schools (among other privatization tactics) have been used to pilfer community resources, dismantle workers’ rights and protections, disrupt student education, increase the dependency on ineffective teaching methods such as standardized testing, increase class sizes that negatively impacts academic achievements, behavior and working conditions, and in general destabilize and under-develop communities. These disruptions, by and large, tend to be in poor, black and brown communities, where people often lack the resources (money, time, information, etc) and political capital to mount significant opposition.
Despite significant questions about touted gains in test scores, the disempowerment of local communities, the increasing amounts of students dropping out of the school system, and the growing income inequality in the city of New Orleans, this disastrous all-charter model (similar to what was implemented in the New Orleans School District after Hurricane Katrina) is being proposed and implemented all across the country. Seeking to imitate this ineffective approach, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has set in motion a statewide referendum to amend the Georgia Constitution. With the amendment, Governor Deal will gain the sole authority to close public schools he deems to be “troubled” or “failing,” and reopen them under private management. This misleadingly named plan is called the Opportunity School District (OSD).
With the largest urban public school districts in Georgia located within the Metro-Atlanta region (see Figures 1 & 2 and Table 1), these school closures will no doubt compound the effects of housing displacement, high un- and underemployment, environmental injustice, lack of equitable and affordable public transportation, dismantled worker protections such as unions, and an already-weakened education infrastructure due to cuts in spending, teacher furloughs, cuts in art and music education, 15 years of decreased spending that does not meet the basic requirements for a quality education, and the upheaval caused by the recent test cheating scandal.
As the following maps and tables prepared by OHRD’s Co-Founder and GIS guru Angel Torres demonstrate, poor Black communities are the initial targets of this education privatization scheme in the state of Georgia. We say initial because this plan doubtlessly preys on existing anti-Black prejudice, gender inequity, and class bias to get it approved and cemented into the Georgia Constitution. But as we know, there is no clear standard or formula for what constitutes “failing” schools, which means that as the appetite for more public money grows so will the number of schools qualifying as failing or troubled. Further, the New Orleans takeover stands as an example that these education barons (analogous to the robber barons of the late 19th and early 20th century) will either create the opportunity to takeover an entire school system or will seize any available avenue to do so. As well, the federal government’s promotion of and continued investment in these failing charter models also means there is deep support for this model metastasizing like a cancer to our entire public school infrastructure, and will thus impact all Georgians, not just Black, brown and poor communities.
In response to this impending violent assault on our communities, we have prepared the following maps and tables as visual evidence of what we already know to be true.
There are 2,261 public schools in the state of Georgia, 6.1% (139 schools) of those are targets for the OSD (so-called Opportunity School District).
Out of the 139 targeted schools, almost half (46.7%) are in the Atlanta metro area (65 schools).
Out of the schools in the metro Atlanta area, 27 are Atlanta Public Schools (APS) (or 27% of all of the schools in the system), 26 are DeKalb County schools (19%), 7 are Fulton County schools (7%), 3 are Clayton County schools (5%), and 2 are charter schools located within the APS system.
Table 1: Characteristics of Student Populations for Targeted Schools
Black students account for 37% of the total enrollment in public schools in the state of Georgia, but account for 89% of all of the student enrolled in schools currently labeled as “failing” at the state level and 92% of the students in similarly affected schools in the Atlanta Metro area.
The same pattern is present when looking at economic indicators for the students in targeted schools. While 62% of all students in the public school system in the state of Georgia participate in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program, almost all of the students at targeted schools take part in the program (96% at the state level and 95% for the Atlanta, Metro Area).
Table 2: Population Characteristics for Zip Codes with Targeted Schools
Zip codes in which the schools are located show similar racial and economic patterns as the school enrollment data.
While the state of Georgia is 31% Black, the percentage Black in the zip codes with targeted schools at the state level jumps to 69%.
The percentage Black in zip codes in the Atlanta Metro Area with targeted schools is over 80%.
The percent of families living under the poverty line in all zip codes in Georgia is 16%.
That percentage increases as we look at zip codes with targeted schools at state level with 23% of families living under the poverty line, and 20% for zip codes with targeted schools in the Atlanta Metro area.
Single-female headed households show a similar pattern. To be clear, these households are not in of themselves a problem. Rather, the issue is that women on average make 79 cents for every dollar a man makes; and when compared to white men, Black women make 63 cents for every dollar and Latinas make 54 cents.
About a quarter of households in zip codes that include targeted schools at the state level (24%) and in the Atlanta metro area (25%) are single-female headed households.
This percentage is 9 to 10% higher than the 15% average for all zip-codes in the state.
What we know, and what these maps and tables show, is that so-called failing schools are a result of the conditions of poverty imposed on oppressed peoples. Handing such institutions over to private charter operators who are backed by hedge-fund managers, education software developers, and other education barons is tantamount to opening fire on these communities. The difference is that, with an outright attack the community will not think these forces are coming in to help. Rather, we will be clear that it is an assault on our very lives.
OHRD wholeheartedly believes that education is a human right and that a public system is the most democratic and equitable means for all to access this right. We believe in a community’s right to self-determination and therefore its right to fully participate in and make decisions central to the education of its children and the heart of its existence. Because each of these rights, and many more, are threatened under the proposed plan to privatize public education, we have undertaken the Equity in Education Campaign to stop the 2016 referendum and to defend, strengthen and expand public education in the State of Georgia.
But we cannot do it without your donations and participation in this campaign. To learn more about our campaign, visit our website and contact our Co-founder and Director of Organizing Terence Courtney, at Terence@orhdemocracy.org or 404-855-6584.
*Copyright, OHRD. May not be reprinted without permission of the authors.