EDITORIAL: Election year posturing on education has begun

January 17, 2014 

Gov. Nathan Deal’s State of the State message, delivered Wednesday, hit some high notes concerning education -- and it’s about time. State lawmakers have eviscerated public education funds for close to a decade. Deal, while not giving teachers a raise, something that’s mandated by the state, does have some increases for teacher training and experience. He plans to send $300 million to local districts through QBE formula, increase funding for transportation and vouchers and give $25 million in grants for digital education and wi-fi enhancements. Any dime will help -- if it actually happens. The budget will be sliced and diced by a General Assembly that has shown itself to be anti-public education.

According to the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute’s study, “Cutting Class to Make Ends Meet,” Georgia’s lawmakers have cut $5 billion from the QBE formula in the last five years, and it’s “the 12th consecutive year that it has been underfunded.” Cumulatively, the state has cut school funding by almost $8 billion since 2003.

School districts have had to take drastic measures to keep afloat. Seventy-one percent of the state’s districts have cut school calendars to less than 180 days. Fourteen have cut more than 10 days from their calendars; 80 percent of districts have furloughed teachers and cut professional development funds. In Bibb County, school personnel have seven furlough days; 42 percent have reduced or eliminated art or music programs and 62 percent have cut elective courses, according to the GBPI study.

It gets worse, 85 percent of the state’s schools have increased class sizes since 2009; 83 percent have used reserve funds to operate and are now coming up empty. While school populations have increased, there are 8,982 fewer teachers than in 2009, and fewer instructional support staff. Bibb County has 119 fewer teachers, Houston 85, Baldwin 75, Dublin City 34, Laurens 47, Bleckley 37, Monroe 8 and Jones 31.

Seventy percent of Georgia’s school districts have cut instructional support staff: counselors, social workers, media specialists, psychologists, etc. Bibb County had the third-largest reduction in the state.

Read the entire study at: http://gbpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Cutting-Class-to-Make-Ends-Meet.pdf

Georgia is already behind in educational achievement. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, Georgia’s eighth-graders rank 40th in math, 31st in science, 34th in reading and 27th in writing, all the while the nation trails other developed countries in the world.

Will lawmakers respond? Some are still sleeping below decks. According to the PAGE Report from the Capitol, state School Superintendent John Barge had to appear before House and Senate members to outline the state’s educational budget less than an hour after he received the 430-page document. Sen. Bill Heath, R-Breman, wanted Barge to say teacher furloughs were the result of “poor spending priorities of local school systems” rather than state budget cuts. Barge did not budge and the study supports him. Lawmakers are already busy trying to avoid a hammer that may be headed their way in this year’s elections, but a bigger hammer is headed for everybody if they do not act.

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