The 2019 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum: Education

Published by Fardeen Sheikh on

Education at the 2019 Georgia
Legislative Policy Forum

On November 19th, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation brought experts from the public and private sectors together at the 2019 Georgia Legislative Policy Forum to discuss future policy solutions. The day’s program featured insights into what Georgia’s leaders can do, and have done to improve the state, its economy and residents.

This year’s theme was, ”Wisdom, Justice, Mobility,” and focused on healthcare, education, transportation, economic opportunity and regulatory reform. 

Breakfast Keynote: Katharine Stevens

After Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan opened the event with welcoming statements, Katharine Stevens of the American Enterprise Institute spoke on the importance of building foundations early in infancy – instead of focusing on building those foundations in school. Stevens, who specializes in the early development and learning of children, said, “Early childhood education means early development, not early school.”

Stevens explains that most of a child’s brain development happens in the first three years of birth. She describes how scientists have proved that it is integral to foster growth during this critical period, so that when children begin pre-k or kindergarten, they’d already have a solid emotional and mental foundation to learn new things.

Katharine Stevens speaks passionately about giving children a stable foundation as early as possible, so that they may be successful in life – or at least, have an equal shot at success.
Courtesy of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

Education and Upwards Mobility Panel

The education panel began with moderator Michelle Wirth, Director of Communications for the Georgia Charter Schools Association. The other panelists were Mike Dudgeon (Policy Director from the Office of Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan), Hannah Heck (the Founding Board Member of Westside Charter Atlanta School) and William Mattox, the Director of the J. Stanley Marshall Center for Educational Options at the James Madison Institute.

The panelists: Hannah Heck (left), Mike Dudgeon (center) and William Mattox (right) advocated for the freedom of school choice. Courtesy of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

The panel discussed charter schools in the education system – and on a larger scale, the importance of having freedom in school choice. Dudgeon explained the need for charter schools to receive more funding to narrow the gap between charter and public schools. All three emphasized how charter schools can be a place for innovation in education.

The panelists examined the difference between an education savings account, which allows for greater flexibility in spending for services, and vouchers, which only cover tuition for private schools. 

Heck spoke on how one of the basic agreements for charter schools is “flexibility of our economy for accountability.” This freedom allows charter schools to implement ideas that more traditional schools would not be able to try. If charter schools become further restricted, then they will not be able to implement their own ideas to see what works or doesn’t work for their students.

Panelists spoke on how the phrase “for profit” is used in a disparaging way when school buses are fueled by for profit companies, textbooks are printed by for profit publishers and lunch food is served by for profit companies. 

Charter schools provide a competitive environment in which good schools that positively impact children get better, while the ones that don’t have to improve to stay alive, as parents will usually go for the options that best suit the needs of their children. 

Charter schools are seen as a great option for special needs students because it provides more individualized care and flexibility that would be less possible in public schools. These institutions offer a pleasant alternative to parents who would be comforted in knowing that their child would be getting the best services. 

The panel advocated for the expansion of school choice. School choice has been such a success in our neighboring state of Florida that in the gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum, 1 out of 5 black mothers voted Republican, despite being traditional Democrats themselves. This was because DeSantis supported school choice, demonstrating how important it is by crossing partisan, socioeconomic and racial lines. 

After a Q&A session, the panel concluded that school choice helps children because no one else can ultimately choose where they can be most successful.

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Fardeen Sheikh

Fardeen Sheikh

Fardeen Sheikh is from Stockholm, Sweden, and he has travelled the world at a very young age. Before coming to Atlanta, he’s lived around Europe and the Middle East. He has recently moved back to Sweden, and is going to study Journalism in City, University of London. Sheikh enjoys watching movies, drinking inordinate amounts of coffee, photography, writing and drawing–even with his best attempts–stick figures. He speaks Bengali, Hindi, French, English and Swedish, while learning a bunch of new things in his free time.

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