August 27th, 2016

I’m Glad My State Is Getting Sued

Well, not really. This isn’t my first-choice outcome. I would rather have seen the state resolve the GNETS situation much earlier, of its own accord or when local advocates brought the problem to its attention, and for the right reasons. I would rather have seen this resolved without the colossal waste of taxpayers’ money that will take place because the state is being obstinate. However, the warehousing of children with disabilities in substandard facilities where little education takes place, in likely violation of Title II of the ADA’s inclusion mandate, needs to stop. If large-scale litigation by the Justice Department and other entities, and perhaps long-term, independent monitoring, will solve the problem, so be it. It is so essential that the state leave this behind that I’m happy to see the pace of change picking up even if Georgia has to be dragged kicking and screaming into better practices. Change is not just important for students languishing in these substandard schools and their loved ones. It’s ultimately crucial for us all.

The GNETS are certainly a threat to the short- and long-term welfare of children in them. They also have the potential to cause collateral damage, and every last in this state is in harm’s way. Georgia has a chance to be a place of some consequence in the 21st century. Industry is growing. People and businesses are moving here. We have a city that can hold and drive this growth. While greater Atlanta isn’t the world-class metropolis it wants to be, not yet, the city that makes no natural sense is thriving despite itself. Arts and culture are on the rise. Walkable areas are springing up. The cost of living is still much lower than it is in other towns with comparable amenities, which has the potential to draw young people, artists, and families alike. It’s a city that has room for children in the urban core. The vicious, economic attack that regional rival Charlotte, NC recently suffered at the hands of its own state legislature may create further opportunities. Georgia could have a bright future, with continued growth for its educational institutions, economic development alleviating rural poverty, and the legislature’s coffers full enough to fix shoddy infrastructure and care for those in need. There is no reason Georgia shouldn’t be a place where great things happen, a model for the rest of the region, but this state’s chance at a happy, prosperous future comes with a price. If Georgia wants to be a place where great things happen, it has to start acting like one.

If Georgia is to grow, the state must stop behaving in ways that are lawless, embarrassing, and ultimately self-defeating. Parts of the world that are considered innovative, admired, and desirable as places to live behave in certain ways. They have adequate protections for children, minorities, and vulnerable people. They value rule of law. They understand that every dollar spent on education returns criminal justice savings and economic dividends. Consequently, they strive to give every child an adequate education. There might not be a causal relationship here, but the correlation is important even if it isn’t causal. No one fully escapes being judged on the basis of appearances. If we act and look like a thriving, growing, orderly part of the world, people and businesses seeking a home will treat us as such. We may escape the traditional reputation of the Deep South and continue to be a place of expanding opportunity. If we act like backward, bigoted yokels, that is how we will be known. If we keep mistreating vulnerable people, doing our best to flout federal law for the sake of flouting federal law, and staging petulant, futile Civil War rehashes in federal court, the world will lose interest in Georgia. Another state in our region will get its act together. We will fall behind, and doors will close.

We need to choose between the ignorance, demagoguery, and persecution that characterize our past and what could be a very bright future. We may not have much time to make the right decision. The answer should be obvious, but change is scary. Some people are hesitating. Some of our leaders are hesitating, and that is threatening our chance to keep moving forward. If this suit pushes us in the right direction, even if that push feels like a harsh shove, everyone involved in taking on the GNETS is doing Georgia a favor in the long run.

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