Dear Georgia’s Public Schoolteachers: Congratulations. You have made it through another school year. Unfortunately, you won’t have much time to reflect on the year just passed since you will have to be back in the classroom in late July and ready to go again. Time flies when you are having fun.
I am afraid that next year and the years to come are going to be difficult ones for you. Not because of anything you have done wrong. In fact, I don’t know how you manage to do what you do as well as you do it, given the meddling you endure from everyone from local administrators to the out-of-touch navel-gazing bureaucrats in Washington.
You come to school early and stay late and buy supplies out of your own pocket and deal with critics who couldn’t carry your bookbag. Still you soldier on because you are making a positive difference in young lives.
None of this seems to matter to some of our intrepid public servants in the Legislature. Their remedy for what ails our public schools is to cut and run from the problems you face in the classroom, such as poverty, drugs, gangs, abuse, transiency, single-parent or no-parent homes and a general lack of respect for authority. In the meantime, they blithely expect you to shut the door on those piddling problems and teach the periodic tables to a child who doesn’t know from where his next meal will come.
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Rather than try to fix the problems, their solution involves offering private school scholarships, vouchers and a tax break to participants. That money, of course, comes out of the state budget. You remember the state budget, don’t you? That is the one that was so tight not all that long ago that you were having to take furlough days and scrape to pay your bills. Now, there seems to be enough money in the state coffers to siphon it off from public education and to allow wealthy contributors an opportunity to make a few bucks, to boot. Is this a great country, or what?
A recently released study by the national School Superintendents Association in connection with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy describes a “double-dipping” opportunity for funding scholarships for private schools in Georgia.
Here’s how it works: A taxpayer donates money to a private school through a Student Scholarship Organization. The organization then passes the money along to the designated school as a tuition subsidy. The donor gets 100 percent of the donation as a state income tax credit AND can also get a deduction on their federal income taxes. Nice.
The Atlanta newspapers reported recently that several tony private schools and their proponents were touting this scheme on their websites as a “profit opportunity.” After all, isn’t that what education is all about? Profit opportunities?
Maybe this blatant lack of support for public education by these ideologues is why so many young teachers in Georgia give it up within five years. (One recent study puts the number at 41 percent.)
On a personal note, my son-in-law, Dr. Ted Wansley, is retiring after 29 years in the classroom. I will admit to a bit of bias, but he represents the best in the profession, including being named state Teacher of the Year and one of the first in the state to become National Board Certified. He was also promised that certification would bring him an additional 10 percent bonus from the state of Georgia. Ted did his part, but not the state.
Gov. George E. Perdue canceled the program. I assume it was interfering with his efforts to buy swampland on the cheap and to promote his signature boondoggle, “Go Fish, Georgia,” which has been a bad joke.
I am proud of what Dr. Ted Wansley accomplished. He made a difference and you do, too. Never forget that. Yours is a noble profession. As for that bunch of Kool-Aid drinking ideologues and their deep-pocketed special interest friends who would rather cut and run from public schools than fix them, I may be fighting a losing battle, but this one isn’t over by a long shot. Enjoy your summer.
Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.