Feb 18, 2022 - News

Georgia bill would limit how schools are vetted

Illustration of a scientist pointing to a blackboard with a gavel drawn on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A newly introduced bill would change the criteria that accrediting agencies can use to review Georgia public schools and systems.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Tippins would require state-approved accrediting agencies to only assess districts in student academic achievement and financial management – not school board behavior.

  • In other words, bickering among the folks elected to govern school districts would not contribute to a downgrade in accreditation if the bill becomes law.

Why it matters: Accreditation is a big deal for parents and students since it’s tied to the HOPE Scholarship, which pays a portion of tuition for students attending any in-state college or university.

  • Two nonprofit organizations – Cognia and the Georgia Accrediting Commission – are the state-recognized accrediting agencies for public schools.
  • The legislation would also require these organizations to share the documentation used in investigations with the school systems and prohibit them from offering remediation services for any deficiencies they find.

Catch up quick: School board governance and behavior were the underlying themes of a special review Cognia conducted last year of the Cobb County School District.

What they’re saying: Tippins tells Axios that Cognia’s review was an example of how its mission has shifted from "the core business of a school district" — ensuring academic excellence — to giving more weight to adult behavior.

  • “To me, when you talk about the value of a school district, it’s the value of the education that’s being provided to the students,” he said.

​​Cognia found Cobb board members were not consistently following their ethics policies and they made inconsistent financial resource allocations. Cobb, which remains accredited, has until December to make the recommended changes.

  • Cogina also conducted a review of Gwinnett County Public Schools, which kept its fully accredited status.

Whats next: Instead of publicly discussing Cognia’s review and whether any recommended change will be made, Cobb’s district leaders are courting the Georgia Accrediting Commission.

  • A district spokesperson tells Axios that Cobb is seeking GAC accreditation for its high schools.
  • "Our staff is constantly evaluating all issues which affect students, including accreditation,” she said.

GAC only accredits individual schools. Phil Murphy, executive director of GAC, tells Axios that their consultants will make a recommendation on Cobb’s request and the Board of Directors will vote on it in April.

If its request for accreditation is approved, Cobb could pay $50 per high school annually to maintain its membership with the commission. It pays Cognia $133,200 per year for its membership, Cobb schools tells Axios.

Murphy says the only downside to GAC accreditation is that it’s not automatically recognized by colleges and universities outside Georgia. That’s why most GAC members have high schools that are accredited by two organizations.

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