By Matt Jones
In education, we hear a lot about ‘accountability’ - that we need to hold teachers and schools accountable.
But what about our elected officials? Elected officials all agree that students should have access to a 21st century education, but the state is not even fully funding our schools using a 1985 formula.
This year, the state cut over $1 billion to Georgia schools and over $8 million to Clarke County Schools. These are more than just numbers.
According to a survey conducted by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Clarke County Schools has furloughed teachers, increased class sizes, and used reserve funds in response to an 18.9% cut in state funding since 2002.
While many countries are lengthening their school year, over 71% of Georgia schools are shortening their school calendars. While elite private schools are touting small class sizes, 95% of Georgia schools have increased their class sizes since 2009. While countries with some of the highest test scores tend to have the lowest level of poverty, 38% of Georgia school districts are cutting back on services to help low-performing students (58.9% of Georgia students are economically disadvantaged).
It is clear that these “Shoestring Budgets” are not providing Georgia’s students with a world-class education. In an effort to hold our elected officials accountable, EmpowerED Georgia recently launched a ‘Stop Putting Our Schools on Shoestring Budgets!’ campaign. We are asking Georgians to mail the Governor and their state legislators shoestrings with a letter asking them to restore funding to public education.
We hear a lot about Georgia being a place to do business but what business is going to want to make serious investments in a state that is not adequately investing in its schools? We hear a lot about supporting job creators but not about supporting teachers - who create all other professions.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Georgia ranked 8th in the nation for the most cuts made to per-student spending since 2008.
Even faced with this reality, the critics continue to find a voice.
Some may argue that test scores have not eroded. These people ignore the erosion of non-tested courses --- 42% of Georgia school districts report that they have eliminated or reduced art and music courses and 62% report that they have eliminated or reduced other electives.
Critics also ignore the constant fundraising of PTAs, the use of local reserves, and the increased burden on local taxpayers that have blunted the negative statistical effects of the funding cuts. Teachers are going above and beyond to serve their students with less pay and fewer resources. Long-term, this is an unsustainable path that will lead to the decline of the teaching profession and student achievement.
Some may point to administrative bloat as a source for funding. Though school boards and school leaders must certainly live by the example of shared sacrifice, I would invite critics to visit the Central Offices of many rural school systems. Most have buildings that date back to the ‘60s and administrators who fill multiple roles. Those who put a magnifying glass on the large administrative costs of a few school systems, ignore the bare-bones operations of the vast majority.
Even critics of Clarke County must admit that you can’t cut enough administrators to make up for the $8 million in cuts from the state this year, especially at a time when federal and state mandates continue to increase.
Let’s be clear -- it’s the state failing local communities, not the other way around.
No doubt, the path to fully funding Georgia’s schools will take a long-term effort but we cannot allow the state to escape its obligation and responsibility.
Georgia’s State Constitution states: “An adequate public education for the citizens shall be the primary obligation of the state.” More than just constitutional obligation, our state elected officials have a moral obligation to support our public schools and Georgia’s students.
This year, I have travelled across the state speaking with parents and teachers. Parents have told me about buses too full to have enough seats for their children. Teachers have told me about classes so full that students sit on the floor. Duct-taped textbooks, ceiling tiles that crumble and fall when it rains, and teachers buying their own copier paper. The stories go on and on.
We must take the first step in the long but important process of fully funding our schools.
Estimates put discretionary state revenues for this year at $300-$400 million. Parents, educators, and community members from across Georgia must come together to urge the Governor and state legislators to ‘Fund Education First’ and put the revenue back into the funding formula.
Parents – you must be advocates not only for your kids but for all kids. Educators – you must do what you do best – educate. Educate the public concerning the issues facing education. For we know that good schools lead to strong communities.
We cannot afford to sit back and watch as the quality of our schools and the education of our children erodes. We must stand up and speak up for the students in Clarke County and those across Georgia.To highlight our Shoestring campaign and to address legislators first-hand, we will be hosting a Day at the Capital on Monday, January 27th, 2013 at 9 a.m. in Room 216. RSVP here.