Sunday Reads – Sept. 4, 2022

Numbers and more numbers tell us that the coronavirus pandemic and our responses to it didn’t add up for students. What does all of this mean? We’ll link the data so you can decide. New data is in for lingering questions about voter drop boxes, which helped voters avoid crowds during the pandemic. In the meantime, take a look at all the apps and personal info on your phone: What should the government be able to see? And why? Let’s roll….

Pandemic toll: School students lose

We’re starting to get a clearer picture of what happened to education during the Covid school years — and it’s not pretty. The gaps essentially erased 20 years of overall learning progress. Georgia Milestones tests show downward trends, and now the National Center for Education Statistics has released its National Assessment of Education Progress — the Nation’s Report Card — that shows 9-year-old students lost an average of 7 points in math and 5 in reading. Results show students who were already behind dropped lower, and students who had more access to teachers and online resources fared better. For an even deeper dive, here’s a link to the National Center for Education Statistics assessment results for various groups based on location, gender, race, grade and more.

These assessments arrived at the same time as calculations for overall educational attainment in Georgia arrived via the blog Trouble in God’s Country that looks at data and analyzes impacts and trends that affect rural Georgia. Using Census data, author Charles Hayslett charted the state population’s educational status to determine that the 147 counties outside the 12-county Metro Atlanta region had a lower percentage of college graduates than Mississippi and wasn’t far ahead of West Virginia. “The Great State of Notlanta finished next to last in that ranking,” said Hayslett. Check out his work and the county-by-county data he presents. Here’s a preview: Only 2 of Coastal Georgia’s fast-growing counties are in the top 15 statewide. As you ponder the testing, assessment and attainment data, think about what these indicators may mean for Georgia’s future growth and how they can be addressed now.

absentee ballot drop box
A Chatham County absentee ballot drop box is sealed following the deadline for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election. Credit: Laura Corley/The Current

31,097 votes

The changes in Georgia’s elections laws following the 2020 General Election are still being sorted out. An independent review by reporters from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, WABE, GPB News and NPR looked at the ballot transfer sheets from each box, addresses and then geocoded each one to map locations. You can see that map in the story as well as the findings. The analysis of the 550,000 drop box votes from the nearly 300 boxes in 112 counties showed the areas with greater usage were in 4 metro Atlanta counties, all heavily Democratic and nonwhite majority voters. However, 31,097 of those voters who dropped absentee votes in drop boxes were in Coastal Georgia.

The analysis found the new restrictions on drop boxes will affect a quarter of the state’s voters who will have farther to travel and less time to use them. It does not find that votes wouldn’t count but tighter rules will require a change in voter behavior. The law sets the number of boxes a county may have and access to them: Boxes must be inside a building and only available during working hours, and they close to all ballots as early voting ends. This move would limit those who dropped ballots overnight or on weekends or on election day. Chatham County had 9 available boxes for the 2020 election and the new rules limit it to 2 locations.

In the news: Storm drains

Savannah and Chatham County are gearing up to spend millions from the federal Inflation Reduction Act on energy conservation and drainage measures. Chatham County’s part of that is likely to be flood-control measures while Savannah will look to keep its 100% sustainable energy promise. At a Wednesday press conference organized by the Climate Action Campaign, Chatham County Commissioner Aaron “Adot” Whitely indicated the county would leverage the new federal funds to address stormwater issues. 

Storm drain
A storm drain on oft-flooded East Henry Street in Savannah is covered by mud and leaves. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current GA

As hurricane season heats up, simply cleaning up drains and ditches along the coast isn’t a bad idea, but Whitely has larger goals including work on roadway flooding and the ubiquitous drainage canals. “I think the biggest takeaway is going to be the investment in our infrastructure for stormwater drainage,” Whitely said. He said it will allow the county to leverage all its resources to make capital improvements in lower lying areas that experience tremendous amounts of flooding after a 20-minute rain.

storm drain
A storm drain in Savannah at Ash Street and Washington Avenue sits partially clogged with sediment in an area where water backs up quickly in heavy rains.

How the flood-control infrastructure takes shape will matter. Storm drains are responsible for more than 3 dozen deaths nationally since 2015, according to reporting by ProPublica in December. Several deaths have been documented this year. They include a 10-year-old boy, his father and another man who were killed in Milwaukee when they were pulled into a large drainage culvert after heavy rains. The boy fell into the ditch while chasing a soccer ball. His father and the other man jumped in to save him. After federal pressure, cities and counties have begun working to close or place grates over open drains and work to keep ditches from clogging and causing dangerous flooding problems. An updated story this week from ProPublica details what’s happened and why in areas that haven’t worked to fix the problems.

digital data
Credit: Chris Yang/Unsplash

Your second cup: data privacy, abortion laws

As people respond to the range of new abortion laws in states, a hot topic is a person’s data privacy regarding women’s health and medical services. Privacy advocates are warning about posting health information and responding to advertising on social media. Women are deleting health-related apps from their phones and other devices that track their periods, ovulation and other health indicators. Under the new Georgia law, what correspondence or data will the courts allow law enforcement to see? The questions are already being tested directly in Nebraska and Texas. In Georgia, law enforcement has used warrants for digital searches in other types of cases, according to a story last week from Georgia Recorder. A geofence warrant allows law enforcement to see which mobile devices were active in a particular area during a certain time. Georgia ranks No. 5 in the nation with 939 geofence warrants sent to Google between 2018 and 2020, according to the company’s data. When we think about the personal information we all have on our phones, computers and tablets, it’s worth considering what you’d want to share with the government in any situation.

Enjoy your holiday weekend.

Math, reading scores plummet on national test, erasing 20 years of progress

The declines erase decades of academic progress. In two years, reading scores on a key […]

See where Georgians used drop boxes in the 2020 presidential election

According to an analysis of drop box data, about 40% of the ballots returned via […]

Savannah-area officials plan to use climate incentives in Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act is a boon to coastal cities and counties looking for ways […]

A year after Hurricane Ida caused flood deaths, officials start to address storm drain dangers

Communities that push back against grates often say the cost of putting them in and […]

How might law enforcement use digital tracking to enforce Georgia’s strict anti-abortion law?

To get access to data from a person’s phone, whether it is chat records, location […]

State Department of Education to pilot new teacher evaluation system

Data from a 2021 statewide survey indicated that 45% of educators felt supervisor feedback under […]

Experts: Campaign finances tell more complex story than voters might think

The candidates in Georgia’s First Congressional District race have vastly different sources of campaign contributions.

Georgia COVID-19 daily statistics

Today’s cases, change, deaths, hospitalizations, testing, vaccination sites and tracker

Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

Susan Catron is managing editor for The Current GA. She has more than two decades of experience in Georgia newspapers. Susan served as executive editor of the Savannah Morning News for nearly 15 years,...