Funding, Common Core among hot topics facing Georgia schools in 2015

jmink@macon.comJanuary 10, 2014 

ATLANTA -- Education experts discussed issues from child poverty to state funding during the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education seminar Friday in Atlanta.

A major topic was the statewide debate over the Common Core standards, with opponents calling for a complete overhaul and proponents claiming the standards should remain. Georgia is among 44 states to adopt the Common Core standards, which aim to provide a consistent framework for educating students nationwide.

Gov. Nathan Deal has tasked the state Board of Education with reviewing the standards, experts said. Both state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, and Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said they favor tweaking Common Core instead of completely changing it.

“We’re talking about a tremendous cost if we try to change things right away,” Coleman said.

Experts also discussed a drop in education funding. As child poverty increases in Georgia, schools have less funding and fewer resources. Since 2002, state funding has been cut 15.3 percent per student, and local revenue has dropped 5.8 percent, said Claire Suggs, senior education policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Georgia ranks 40th in per student expenditures, according to a recent national study by Education Week. For more than a decade, school districts have not received money they earn under the state formula for public school funding, state school Superintendent John Barge said.

“Our schools are starving in many of our districts,” he said. “We have to prioritize educational spending, especially in our most rural districts.”

Additionally, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, which assesses districts and schools, has recently been a top issue. This year, the CCRPI is changing. The assessment will be more rigorous, and scores are likely to be lower as a result. Also, the assessment will place a bigger emphasis on student growth, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.

In 2015, end-of-course tests will be overhauled as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests are slated to end.

The new student assessments are expected to include fewer multiple choice questions and more open-ended questions. Therefore, the state likely will cut some mandatory exams, such as separate writing tests for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders, he said.

The partnership released this year’s list of “Top 10 Issues to Watch” in Georgia education. Among those issues are school climate, early learning, college and career-ready standards, and new teacher preparation programs. The report covers a variety of topics, including future student assessments, obstacles in completing post-secondary education and a new behavior strategy, which encourages positive behavior among students instead of simply punishing bad behavior. The report can be downloaded at www.gpee.org.

“This year’s report looks at the entire education pipeline from early learning to post-secondary graduates,” said Dana Rickman, Georgia Partnership’s policy and research director.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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