Georgia legislators have a choice as they look at this years budget -- invest in schools or invest in prisons. This may seem like a false choice, but its not. Its a choice about the future and a choice that could make the difference for many young boys and girls in our state.
For the last 12 years, legislators have underfunded and starved our state school system. For the last five years austerity cuts equaled about a billion dollars per year to our education budget. The cumulative lack of funding since 2003 is massive -- $7.6 billion. These choices have an impact.
This year 80 percent of our schools will furlough teachers. Seventy-one percent of our children are in school less than the 180 recommended days.
More than 95 percent of schools have increased class sizes. Seventy-three school systems in Georgia have declared bankruptcy. And, although the total number of students in our public school system increased, Georgia has cut more than 9,000 teachers.
The lack of commitment to our schools makes it more difficult for our children to learn. Kids have fewer days in the classroom, fewer teachers to spend time with them, and less money to address simple things like maintaining adequate buses or quality buildings. This impacts things like our dropout rate -- which is one of the highest in the country.
If we could improve our school system, we can improve our dropout rate. This would be an improvement that everyone would benefit from. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, if 90 percent of kids graduated in just one year we would see:
$457 million in increased annual earnings
$606 million in increased gross state product
$342 million in increased annual spending
$103 million in a combined increase of state and federal tax dollars.
This comes down to the question of investment. Investing in our schools is an investment in the future growth of our state. Without a doubt it will take money to make this happen. But, it is also certain that when we choose to invest in our schools and in our children, we are also investing in the future financial security and economic growth of our state.
Kids who dont graduate from high school are four times more likely to grow up and be unemployed. When these individuals work they will earn $143 less per week than high school graduates and $479 per week less than college graduates. Dropouts are more likely to apply for and receive public assistance than graduates of high school. Finally, 82 percent of prisoners in America are high school dropouts.
Our Georgia legislators have a choice -- build up our schools now or build up our prisons later. We will pay either way, but would it not be better to pay for education than incarceration? Statistics show the choice has a real and demonstrable impact on our society. Therefore, to our legislators, I must pose the choice. To me, the answer is simple.
Nicole Foerschler Horn is the vice president for JMH Consulting, a higher education consulting firm. She lives in Atlanta.