Sen Dems Confront GOP on Local Control

FEBRUARY 23, 2012
 For Immediate Release
 Liz Flowers
 Senate Democratic Caucus

Floor debate of online grad testing underscores state interference, class issues

Atlanta, Ga. – Feb. 23, 2012 – Georgia’s Senate Democrats worked today to defeat another effort by Republicans to chip away at local control of school systems and throw another hurdle in the path of low income students.

Senate Bill 289, authored by Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) requires high school students to complete an online course in order to be eligible to graduate. Also known as the Digital Learning Act, this legislation mandates that beginning with the 2014-15 school year entering ninth graders must complete at least one online instructional course as a prerequisite for high school graduation.

“After years of hearing the GOP mantra of ‘local control,’ a series of Republican-backed measures demonstrate they have lost sight of communities determining their own path. SB 289 fails to take into account fiscal issues of local school systems and creates an unfunded mandate,” said Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta)

Fort authored an amendment that would have placed some restrictions on the bill. That amendment fell just a few votes short of passage.

Fort said SB 289 uses the same arguments that have been crafted in recent debates on state funding for charter schools. He said the state should not be allowed to spend local money, without accountability and with unfettered power.

“Local taxpayers have less and less power with these new state control initiatives. But believe me, they will be left with the consequences,” Fort said.

For said that during the past decade, school systems have lost 25 percent of their funding. Some school systems have survived in spite of the cutbacks, but in many areas – particularly rural areas of our state – administrators are at a financial tipping point. Either removal of any more money or requirements for new spending would mean collapse – not just of one school but of entire systems – leaving thousands of children without their primary constitutional right of an adequate education.

Sen. Donzella James echoed Fort’s concerns and added that many children simply do not have access to computers.

“Whether it is online testing, charter schools or failed HOPE programs, the GOP has launched a class warfare that will not turn out for the best of our citizens. We cannot create a strong and prosperous state economy when we address only the needs of a few,” James said.

SB 289 moves now to the House. ###

March 6 Elections – Alcohol Referendum

Voter InformationDid you know that on March 6, Unincorporated Gwinnett County will vote on Sunday Alcohol Sales?

What, you say?   Didn’t we already vote on that?   No…only cities voted for it.  Gwinnett County’s referendum is March 6, 2012 along with the Presidential Primary.

On March 6, 2012, the ballot will include questions about Sunday Alcohol Sales for UNINCORPORATED Gwinnett County.

Also Peachtree Corners will be electing their first City Council.   Way to go!

While you’re voting for President Barack Obama, you can vote on the Gwinnett County Sunday Alcohol Sales referendum

Click Here for Voter Information and Poll Locations



Steffini Bethea

Article from the February 15, 2012 Snellville Patch


Wednesday’s Woman: Steffini Bethea

This mother and wife is making a difference in the lives of women in fitness and in politics.

When this Michigan native moved to Georgia, it quickly became apparent that she couldn’t sit idly by as things just happened around her.

Steffini Bethea had to make her own luck and stand up for herself and others. She started with fitness.

She’d come to Georgia by way of Texas in 1995 to expand her fitness business, hoping to make more of a name for herself here. She owned facilities in Alpharetta and Roswell, initially.

In 2000, she moved to Gwinnett County — first to Lawrenceville and eventually settling into Snellville. For a time she did pharmaceutical sales, and then she met and married her husband Dr. Sheldon Bethea.

Together the two began Chirofit Evolution, a merger of chiropractic, fitness and nutrition. It’s now a decade old, and it helps to keep Bethea busy — and rewarded.

You may not look like Barbie when you leave her expertise at Chirofit because this is no weight-loss clinic. She believes it’s about a whole-body-and-mind change.

“I like seeing the ladies when they come in transform, not just physically but mentally,” said the 47-year-old. “I like to see that mental transformation where eating healthy is not even an option, you know. It’s just something that they do, like brushing their teeth.”

Learning Political Ropes

While she was changing the lives of women in fitness, she also began thinking that she had to do more to make a difference in the lives of even more people.

Primarily, she was concerned about schools. They’d moved to the Brookwood school cluster for her children, and it just didn’t seem right that not every child had access to a good education. Not every family can just move to the place of their choice, she added.

“More importantly, I think that every school should be good,” Bethea said. “We shouldn’t have to move to a school, you know. And, we shouldn’t have to move to a district.”

More and more, it bothered her. She wished more parents would be involved; she wished racism wasn’t lingering under the surface. Over the years, even at Brookwood High, Bethea said she had step in for her children numerous times.

“I found myself saying somebody needs to do something about this, somebody needs to do something about that,” Bethea said. “And, it was funny, because my husband said to me, ‘Well, you’re somebody. Why don’t you do it.'”

At first, she wavered. She thought she lacked credentials. She was mom. She was a wife. She was a business owner. She was no politician.

So, about 2006 she threw herself into politics, learning what she could in women’s political training classes and eventually starting the Gwinnett County arm of the League of Women Voters.

A member of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, she’d go down to the State House and met a lot legislators about issues she believed important.

“And, then I realized from meeting those legislators that, wait a minute, I can do this,” she said. “They were just regular people.”

Besides, she surmised, “the best legislator is not a politician, but a citizen legislator.”

A Run at the State

In 2010, she ran for the first and only time for a state office. She competed against Republican Brett Harrell for the House District 106 seat. She lost, but she learned a lot.

Whether it was memories of her own story — including having the “N-word” spray-painted on her Snellville street — remnants that still remain, or the stories of her neighbors she learned by going door-to-door, campaigning made her even more committed to being involved.

“For the most part, what I learned is that everybody wanted the same thing,” she said. “It was just how we go about getting it that made the big difference.

“I felt that most of the people (who) wanted me to win — whether they were a Democrat or a Republican — they were people (who) were inclusionary,” she said. “A lot of the people — people who were against me — were people who didn’t want change.

“They wanted the district to stay the same way, and I think it was mainly fear. I was something that they hadn’t seen before. Someone they didn’t know, and I think that they just wanted what they knew, which was the status quo.”

Snellville politics has gotten much farther than that, as council meetings lately are “always going to be a fight,” Bethea added.

Truly, though, we all want safe neighborhoods, good schools, and thriving economies, she said. So, losing the race may have been a difficult blow, but it couldn’t be the final one.

“It just made me want to fight harder to do more,” Bethea said.

She has continued to work with the local, state and national Democratic Party. She is a current vice chair in the Gwinnett County Democratic Party, and a co-chair of the public policy committe with the National Coalition of a 100 Black Women.

Soon, she begins a fellowship with the Georgia Women’s Policy Institute.

“I’ve made a lot of friends; I’ve made a lot of connections, and I think it would be sinful, literally sinful, for me to keep that to myself or throw that all a way and not use it to help my community,” Bethea said.

Family Time

When she’s not volunteering her time to help people through politics, Bethea just likes being a mom and wife. She also is a member of New Mercies Christian Church in Lilburn.

She’s a self-proclaimed “dance mom” to her second-grade daughter. Her husband, she added, is a “dance dad.”

“It is time-consuming,” she said, but worth it.

In part, that’s because she hopes all her children grow up to be well-rounded, passionate citizens, who stay involved and know what’s important to them. “Don’t just take my word for it, find out the facts for yourself.”

In the meantime, she just wants to be there for her family, like her mother is for her. Now 69, Bethea’s mom has been a source of knowledge and womanly inspiration that she hopes to be.

“She’s beautiful, educated, strong. I still want to be her when I grow up,” she said, smiling.

As a business owner, full-time mom and community advocate, it would seem that Bethea has already made her mother proud.