The debate stretched over several hours, but in the end Governor Nathan Deal’s plan for the state to take over failing schools, won approval in the Senate today, mostly along party lines. It will now go to the House where it is expected to face a much tougher fight.

Senators had to vote on two pieces of legislation Thursday, Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287. The vote on the resolution was perhaps the most important, because it called for an amendment to the state constitution and required a two-thirds majority to pass. It squeaked by with exactly that majority, 38 votes, including a “yea” from one Democrat, Senator Freddie Powell Sims of Dawson.

The second vote, which would create the governor’s “Opportunity School Districts”, passed 38-to-17. Together the two bills would grant the governor broad powers to set up the “Opportunity School Districts” across the state, taking over schools that have consistently failed. Under the measures, the governor would appoint a state superintendent of schools who reports directly to him. The state would also have the authority to hire and fire school principals, transfer teachers and control curriculum.

Democrats who spoke against the plan cited a need for local control of schools. Senator Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, argued that a holistic approach needs to be taken when dealing with students in many of those failing school districts. He says issues of poverty need to be addressed, “because a hungry child can’t learn.”

Senate Democrats have offered an alternative to the governor’s education proposal, SB 124. It would create community schools, through a grant program. Fort says the schools would not only provide an educational curriculum, but also offer a set group of services, such as child care, job training, mental and physical health services and programs that involve the community and civic organizations.

Gov. Deal says he is open to perhaps incorporating some aspects of SB 124 into his plan, but he says the plan itself deals with operational issues. “They are not the kind of things that relate to governance. And we believe we have a governance problem as it relates to these failing schools in our state. “, he said last month. " We will continue to follow the progress of all three measures as the legislative session continues."