Brain Drain: The Southern Response to Ed and Business Atrophy

The challenge of brain drain has existed for years in areas around the nation.  The South is no different, although perhaps more exaggerated and slower to respond.  As I grew up in Social Circle, all I wanted to do was get the hell out of my small town and find a job, home, and surroundings that seemed to fit me more than from whence I came.  Many college-age kids and younger are the same.  This is not to say I do not deeply love Walton County (God’s country) and recognize the idyllic childhood I had there.  I grew up recognizing I was a square peg in a round hole, and I felt like an escape would provide the upward mobility I sought while not interfering with/ ruffling the feathers of those within the cultural climate I was reared.  The early recognition that I was a bit different forced me to reconcile that staying in my small town would mean a constant outsider feeling accompanied with a general uphill battle for any of my ideas and presence in certain circles.  So like a number of youth across the nation, I left and come back for family visits, events of friends who stayed behind and not much else.  I wait with baited breath for Walton County’s prosperity and commercial growth.  I sing its praises as often as I am able and I encourage as many to move there as possible, yet the struggle to be accepted as I am (more progressive, assertive, and business oriented) will always halt any dreams of returning.

But what if an entire generation chooses to leave their home towns?  What if few decide to come back?  What happens to the rural small towns they leave and how do those towns sustain themselves over time?  What happens when my generation reverses white flight and we all move back into urban areas?

You may have noticed it in your own town and among your own neighbors.  My generation has little patience for lack of amenities and we frankly do not comprehend how you work or live without reliable WiFi.  This isn’t unique to a certain area of the Southeast.  This is representative of a larger generational shift across the nation.  The opportunity to be something other than someone’s child has its own draw, and readily available choices of higher paying jobs is incredibly seductive.

In the last six months I have engaged in a leadership class called Georgia Forward.  Initially a nonprofit offshoot from Central Atlanta Progress, this organization partners with cities around Georgia to produce solutions to the local community’s challenges.  These challenges are identified by a steering committee of local officials (namely the local Chamber, from what I can tell), and are then posed in the form of questions to the group of fifty class members, a third of which are locals.

The area to which my class was partnered is Troup County.  Rich in textile history and manufacturing industry jobs, Troup County is an ideal location for Georgians to stake their claim and build their dreams.  Yet the cities of LaGrange, West Point, and Hogansville are finding it challenging to attract and retain young talent.  With little to no quality of place attributes (nightlife, retail establishments, civic organizations), I found myself both very familiar with and appallingly shocked as to why the residents could not recognize their own challenges.   The juxtaposition of those who enjoy the non-urban lifestyle that Troup County offers is in direct contrast to the preferences of those they wish to attract and retain.

This is not new, or foreign to me.  It is becoming so damn common across Georgia I often wish to beat my head against the wall in frustration.  I have seen this manifest in Macon, Augusta, Monroe, on recent visits to Americus, Albany, and certainly in my hometown of Social Circle.  There is a generational difference that contributes to the challenge, but also an ever-present racial one, and at its roots, economic.

I did not think of it as a generational problem across the nation until I recently finished the memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance.  The book was so incredibly gripping- painfully so at times.  The tome spoke such truth to the life I have known here where, albeit less violence and drugs as represented in Vance’s life, my own experience knows well the depth of family loyalty, the need for escaping one’s hometown, and the ties that forever bind us by the heartstrings to the challenges we try to leave behind. Continue reading “Brain Drain: The Southern Response to Ed and Business Atrophy”

Amendment One: Fail

I am tickled pink that Amendment One got a big, fat, red F. It failed, failed, I say! I’m sad the others passed, but that’s not the point of this piece.
This amendment crossed party lines in its proponents and its opponents.

The proponents appeared a bit paternalistic in their approach: “We know what is best for the poor black and brown children in Georgia, and their schools, their teachers, and their community members are simply sitting around on their asses, doing nothing but eating bon bons on taxpayer time.” Dealio even had the gall to go into a majority minority community and tell those folks in East Point that his was that of the great white hope, and if the OSD became reality, kids could graduate from high school, and then they could go to technical schools. He didn’t mention university, mind you.

The opponents seemed to be a bit more anarchist in their approach to defeat the amendment: “Get the government out of my school. I don’t trust you folks to pick your noses without making them bleed, let alone to educate my kid.” I could be wrong, but that was the vibe I got…

My take is a little different: We have this nebulous CCRPI metric, which changes every year. Last year, Schools can get points for graduation rates, test scores, teacher and parent surveys (Nice! Poke a mama bear, and that survey goes down the crapper). Fulton County has advisers set up to help the schools earn more points based on the ever changing scale. Advisers! It’s all a number game, folks. And it seems that the scale is changing so that more schools are failing…struggling…sorry Richard Woods (nice change in rhetoric after the fact, though).  So more schools got on the watch list as this amendment became more viable to the Opportunity School District. In fact, the amount of schools who were determined failing skyrocketed in 2016. One Hundred and forty two schools were added to the list of 2015’s 81. Almost a 200% increase in failing schools. DANG! Coincidence? Maybe. Probably not, though.

It was a grab for money and for power, and it failed, as it should have. I think the voters got this one right (I voted Libertarian, so I am exempt from any blame for TP in the WH).

Session: My Second Favorite Time of Year

footballLegislative session will begin next week.  It is my second favorite time of year.  Clearly it’s no one’s first; but a strong second in a heated primary, if you will.  Football season is my favorite time of year.  Some may love Christmas, others Halloween, but my favorite time in Georgia is the fall in which every self-respecting Southerner picks a team and joins their friends and family in heated rivalry for a few months.  It’s a second religion here, and I’m certain the rules are written somewhere in Leviticus, right next to church starting at 11am sharp.

The two seasons are not so unlike one another.  My love of college football is because of the intense drama on the field in a strategically played game that has an extremely diverse mix of talent…Unless you’re Alabama, of course.  Then you just mark your calendar with bowl rings and trophies.  The legislative session is similar in that there is strategy of sorts, lots of drama and high spirits, and the talent is as diverse as the power.  Freshmen legislators may rise up on the rungs quickly in popular opinion even if their bills go nowhere and the mighty three are typically protected and lead from behind as much as any star quarterback.  There is also occasional Tebowing on the sidelines for dramatic effect and ingratiating oneself to the social conservative base.

However, the rumors of success and predictions for which way the score will go are as varied as the talent in the second string draft.  Yet, I will try my hand at a few suspicions I have and we shall all see where the rumors of session will fall. Continue reading “Session: My Second Favorite Time of Year”

Red Clay and the Challenge of Equality: To Be Mired In or Molded

georgiaredclayThe holiday season is drawing to a close, and soon the legislative session for the Georgia General Assembly will be upon us.  As the state closes out its year, we look to the future and what promise or plague our policy makers will bestow upon us.  I have spent an unhealthy amount of time this season pondering the fate of Georgia, as if I have any real means of addressing it.  I have not blogged in some time, as I have had little hope that the politics of the day are bearing anything other than strange fruit.  It is hard, even for an eternal optimist in these days of constant rain to see the silver lining.  Across the red hills, I see a lot of barriers that not only exist, but are perpetuated without real cognizance of their consequence.

Along with the temperature, I see the passion of Georgia’s people heating up like a kiln.  Many of us in the political sphere refer to this time as “the calm before the storm” of legislative session.  We spend time with our families, count our blessings, and prepare ourselves for the battle of will in government.  Under the surface though, there is something simmering here and in the nation that Presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Black Lives Matter movement have accentuated and possibly exploited.

It is widely assumed that the upcoming session will be brief and not much policy other than education passed.  Incumbents need time to raise money and campaign in their districts.  This abbreviated session may be a mixed bag of course, addressing a big problem, yet not the only one the state faces.  I am grateful to see the QBE funding formula finally addressed (as the last time was almost before my birth), yet I cannot shake the very real feeling I have had for the last five years or so.

The General Assembly is thinking too small. Continue reading “Red Clay and the Challenge of Equality: To Be Mired In or Molded”

Public School:  Where the Rights of a Few Trump the Rights of Too Many

One of the foundations of our Constitution is that the rights of many do not impede upon the rights of a few.  I get that, and I think it an imperative cornerstone of America.

But today I am writing about discipline in public school…stay with me; there’s a connection.

All children have a right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE). FAPE gets tossed around a lot.  What it means is that the school is bound by law to serve every child, whether he or she has a special learning need or not.  Again, I agree that we need to ensure the rights of a few.  But when do the rights of a few trump the rights of many?

I’m sure that we have now all seen the video of the South Carolina Resource Officer who flipped a child onto the floor.  Was he wrong?  Absolutely!  Should he lose his job?  Yes!  Was it overkill?  Probably.

What got him to that point, though?  A teacher had to call in an administrator who then had to call in a police officer (and yes, they are trained officers…with vests and guns) to deal with a child who allegedly would not leave a class of 25-30 students. ONE child kept a class of 25-30 kids from learning.  ONE child kept instruction from other students who also have a right to FAPE.

As a mother and an educator, though, I am growing more and more concerned that students who are “average” are being pushed out of public school by those who need special attention.  Gifted students get extra money from the coffers; students who don’t speak the language get extra money from the coffers; students who are medically fragile get extra money from the coffers; so do kids with ADHD if they have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  They get special testing plans and extra time on tests; they get extra resources; some even get their own teacher.

How has it gotten to the point that schools must use resources such as a full time, certified  teacher for one student, or an assistant to a teacher of five students when the “average” child is stuck in a classroom with 30 other “average” kids?  When one reads about student teacher ratios, averages are used.  Meaning, when a parent reads 12:1 ratio, the school or school system is not taking into account that some of the children in that school have their own teacher, or there is a class of three students who are highly special needs.  These children need special attention, and I appreciate that.  I understand that they are either medically fragile or at such a place that their education depends upon those resources.

Brenda Wood has some comments about public school’s discipline problems that I found refreshing.  I appreciate her thoughts, but I don’t think that Ms. Wood understands that students who have an IEP can be as “mouthy” as they want to be because those students can only be suspended ten days of school…period.  If a child who has a special need of Behavior Disorder (BD), s/he can cuss out a teacher or even threaten to hurt a teacher, and before anyone can do anything, a hearing must be called to see if the behavior is a “manifestation of disability”.  That means that if Susie cussed me out and threatened to kill me, it may have been something that set her off, and we as a school just need to be better at handling Susie’s disability.

I have a couple of little people who are “average”, and they sometimes come home and tell me about their day, saying, “No we didn’t have much reading (or fill in the blank) today because Susie was having another one of her bad days.”  I then ask what they did, instead.  Sometimes they go to another classroom until Susie calms down (lost instruction), or sometimes they just wait until Susie calms down (complete waste of instruction).  Sometimes the principal or assistant principal gets called in to remove the child in a way that they have been trained.  But then the principal or assistant principal has to sit with Susie until mom or dad arrives.  Sometimes they do; more often, they don’t.  So what do I do?  I get angry because there’s nothing I can do.  I find it unfair that now the rights of one are impeding the rights of the rest of the class, my child included.  Before I had kids, I was much more inclined to be understanding and inclusive, but that was before my children’s rights to FAPE were trumped by that of one child who was not “average” but special.

One day, some crazy parent might decide to sue because their “average” child is being lost in the masses of “special” children. That crazy parent may just be me.

To Double Dip or Not Double Dip?

I walk a line in Georgia politics.  Many of the policy issues that face the state are ones that are not only passion points for me and for my friends, but also INVOLVE my friends.  As a political consultant, I work to further my clients’ causes and move the state in, what I hope is, the right direction.  More times than not, I find myself on the opposite side of the issue with people whom I admire, value their opinion, and with which I would really love to be on the same side.  In this business, there are professional ethics that are dictated by the Georgia Government Transparency and Finance Committee, otherwise known colloquially as the “Ethics Commission”.  There are also personal ethics that command even a higher standard. I personally take a GREAT DEAL of pride in that I never work for a cause in which I do not fully believe.  It would make me a horrible advocate and I believe would reflect poorly upon my causes.

Earlier this week, the question of Governor Deal’s top education gun, Erin Hames’ ethics came into focus.  The AJC and Creative Loafing posed the ethics question regarding the fact that an open records request has shown Mrs. Hames to have concurrent contracts to continue consulting Governor Deal’s office on education and providing strategies to Atlanta Public Schools for avoidance of being taken over by the Opportunity School District.

I will leave the personal and professional ethical questions to others to debate. 

As a government affairs consultant to Grad High, a statewide charter high school that serves at-risk youth, an Atlanta school district resident, and a person who is glad to see Governor Deal try something new and bold in education reform, I have a nuanced opinion about Mrs. Hames’ concurrent contracts.

Yet what I am more concerned about is the shadow that this focus on Mrs. Hames casts over the ballot initiative to be decided by Georgia voters in November.   The OSD is not a done deal. Yet, education reform is desperately needed in our state.  IMHO, Mrs. Hames has long championed for the Governor the necessary education reforms, and her work is something I am grateful for and I believe has very genuine and noble roots.  However, I have to question why she would wish to cast a pall over these proceedings?
Continue reading “To Double Dip or Not Double Dip?”

Georgia: Trailblazer or Perennially Lost?

appalachian-trail-approachI have had the pleasure of travelling around the Southland a bit lately.  Although I reside in the city of Atlanta, my favorite spot to get away is ALWAYS in the mountains-Georgia or North Carolina; does NOT matter.  Wherever the pine trees are in abundance and the paved roads are not is where I wish to be.  Cooler temperatures and rolling landscapes abound and the elevation of certain points allows me to indulge and get lost metaphorically in my own thoughts.  However, I recently became actually lost-as in could not find my path back to the beginning of the trail.  It’s a very different feeling when one is truly lost- the disorientation, the heat of the midday sun beating down, and my body already tired from the hike I had originally set out on, never expecting to cover this many miles or take THAT much time.


Clearly I made it back, but as I was climbing over hills and dodging the brambles in my unorthodox path, I thought much of how this could have been prevented.  Where were the colored blazes marking the path?  Why have the trails not been tended so that the vegetation did not cover my previous steps?  I walked back over the same path many times in hopes of finding the switchback I missed, or the small bridge I had crossed.  The path was there, I had simply forgotten its image and location.  And in my foolhardy arrogance, I had not adequately prepared for if something went wrong.




One would never have believed I hiked 40 miles on the Appalachian Trail a few years ago and am a regular hiker who enjoys backcountry camping.  Bless MY heart.


In more than a decade of Georgia politics, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting at tables of power that others may not have with both the House and the Senate.  I have watched the paths of policy and party emerge from a grassroots level to the fall of some mighty grasstops under Lt. Governor Taylor and Speaker Richardson.  I have been impressed with the larger vision of the present Governor and the efforts of the sitting legislative members to initiate justice reform, a transportation plan and now educational reform.  I’ve watched the rabbit holes of RFRA and the Guns Everywhere bill send the legislature in strange meandering paths so that I’m left wondering where are our markers?  What will be the footprints we leave for others to follow?  More importantly, if Georgia wishes to move forward, what tools will we employ to blaze new paths? Continue reading “Georgia: Trailblazer or Perennially Lost?”

Winning Requires Planning Ahead

us-womens-world-cupThis past Sunday night, many Southerners huddled around their TVs to watch the Women’s World Cup, or at least those that were not shooting off their remaining fireworks and ammo from the night prior. With this win, the U.S. Women’s Team has become the team with the most wins in Women’s World Cup history.  While a team is climbing to the top there is lots of speculation, but when the victory is claimed, everyone wants to know how they did it.  Aside from hard work, LOTS of practice, and some killer instincts, the case could be made for the fact that the United States is the only country in the Women’s World Cup that provides IX funding, making it equally possible for young, female athletes to pursue their passions just like their male colleagues.  As a shock to no one, I am a big fan of this theory and of IX funding.  While I am no athlete, I do believe that planning ahead tends to make short work of competition.  Turns out, I am not the only one that feels this way.

Early last month, Paul Bowers, Chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce spoke with leaders at Berry College about the necessity of a good education.  You see, Mr. Bowers needs Georgians to have a good education so that when they apply to his company, they can actually meet the fundamental requirements of the job.  This isn’t rocket science to anyone.  Most people believe that with a better education, you can rise to the next level with a combination of hard work and integrity.  Yet Mr. Bowers’ statement on education here in the state should not be brushed to the side.  Frankly, it could be read another way: either Georgia needs to get their education act together, or our economy is going to suffer.  This is not the first time the Chamber has tried to get lawmakers’ attention, either.  Click here for the link to the “Economics of Education” report from the Chamber in 2012, or skip to the images below. Continue reading “Winning Requires Planning Ahead”

QBE Funding: Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More

As I have been sitting through education meetings this past week regarding the decision last week to postpone recommendations to reforming the QBE formula, it has been a frustrating experience.  Yet, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully, this will not be a train.  The Governor’s Commission on Education Reform Funding Sub-committee meeting this past week began with a discussion of this postponement as a possible positive: the added time will allow the sub-committee more time to reach a unanimous decision on recommendations for reform and ultimately for improving our education in the Peach State.  Many are hoping that is true and that this dance is not another act in a kabuki theater of the General Assembly.  Most of us are just hoping we are not wasting more of our time.  One can certainly hope.

Continue reading “QBE Funding: Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”