EDITORIAL: Great start to a new school year, but danger lies ahead

A new school year has begun. Smiling kids are skipping off to school for new adventures in learning. Refreshed teachers have their classrooms decorated to invite their bright-eyed students inside.

The enthusiasm is palpable. Superintendents are making their rounds in their districts, and even the state superintendent is visiting school systems all across the state. With all this joy, it’s hard to fathom the tsunami that might be headed toward the state’s education system.

The unsuspecting teachers are on the beach, and it is unlikely alarms will be sounded before it’s too late to escape. The funding committee of the Governor’s Education Reform Commission is meeting to discuss the height and power of the wave that will hit teachers as they toil in their classrooms.

One proposal would base veteran teacher pay much as it’s done now on training and experience, but would give districts the flexibility to pay new teachers on a different scale of the district’s choosing.

Another proposal being considered -- this one foisted by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget -- would take the state’s average pay, currently at about $51,000, and multiply it by the number of teachers in each district. Some districts would get more money -- those that spend less than the average -- and some would need a supplement because they spend more than the average. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, the supplement would come from a pool of $88 million.

Here’s the issue. The state has never lived up to its education promises. This process is designed to save money, and no matter what this commission decides, it is the governor’s process and it has to go through legislative approval, which he controls. He already has shown his hand when his office said there was no proof that experience or advanced education had any impact on education outcomes.

The commission will turn over its suggestions by December. That will be too late for the 2016 General Assembly, but in 2017, teachers better be aware and beware. If the state lowers its funding, it will be up to local taxpayers to pick up the slack. As always, the state will try to avoid getting blamed for the tax increases it is responsible for creating. If teacher salaries are significantly lowered and credit for experience and further education is no longer recognized on their pay stubs, the giant sucking sound we’ll all hear is the state’s education system going down the drain.

Fact is, one of the best reforms the commission could recommend is to fully fund the 30-year-old Quality Basic Education Act.