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School funding is on the table again

Posted: January 22, 2014 - 1:05am

State school Superintendent John Barge is on a political suicide mission.

He decided last year not to try for another term as the elected head of Georgia’s Department of Education, choosing instead to run for governor in the Republican primary against incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal and Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

I suspect Barge knows he is facing long odds when he opposes a sitting governor in his own party primary. The superintendent has raised only a small amount of money for his campaign, but just by taking on this imposing task, Barge has performed a valuable service for his state.

He is helping focus attention on an issue that’s been dragging Georgia down for more than a decade: “austerity cuts” in state funding for education that collectively total more than $7 billion.

Barge sent a lengthy letter to Deal and state legislators that laid out the financial impact of these funding reductions on public schools.

“The very fact that the state as a whole has shown any improvements in education under these conditions is miraculous,” Barge wrote. “This success has occurred in spite of the fact that teachers have been laid off, class sizes are larger, programs like art and music have been completely removed from many schools, teachers have been furloughed, and days of instruction have been cut from school calendars.”

Barge notes the embarrassing fact that dozens of our public school districts do not provide the 180 days of classroom instruction that was once required by law: “Most of our school districts simply cannot afford to keep the doors open!”

“Some of the schools I visited turned the lights off in the halls to save money on the electric bills!” Barge wrote. “I saw carpet that was completely threadbare, holes in walls, and water fountains that had obviously broken and were removed rather than being fixed because there was no money to fix them.”

“I am not talking about a third world country! I am talking about our schools, right here in Georgia!”

Barge’s outrage focuses on the problems faced by school systems in rural counties, which do not have large tax bases and cannot raise property taxes very much to make up for cutbacks in state funding.

Urban and suburban systems face challenges as well. Shortly after the Cobb County Commission voted in November to approve $300 million in public funds for an Atlanta Braves baseball stadium, the chairman of the Cobb school board confessed at a public hearing: “We’re broke.”

In all fairness, Deal has tried to stop the bleeding since he became governor. His proposed state budget would add more than $500 million in funding for local school systems.

“My proposal represents the largest single year increase in K-12 funding in seven years,” Deal said.

“It will enable us, in partnership with local school districts to restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries,” Deal said. “These funds will provide our local school systems with the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers.”

Although the governor’s increase does not restore the $7 billion in state funding that’s been lost since 2003, it at least is a recognition that we must stop shortchanging this important investment in our state’s future.

Because of his presence in the GOP primary, Barge will help maintain the focus of public attention on the school-funding issue, as will state Sen. Jason Carter, the expected Democratic nominee for governor.

Whenever I write a column about the issue of school funding, I always receive e-mails from readers who contend that you can’t solve the problems of our education system by “throwing money at it.”

They are correct that simply spending more money is no guarantee that things will get fixed. But the state hasn’t been throwing more money at our schools – it’s been spending billions of dollars less.

When you cut back that much, any system is going to perform poorly. It’s time we had a discussion of that performance and its cause. The governor’s race will be a good place to start it.

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Comments (2)

Little Lamb

Lost

Tom Crawford writes:

. . . the governor’s increase does not restore the $7 billion in state funding that’s been lost since 2003. . . .

Sorry, Tom, but that funding was never “lost.” That funding never materialized. That funding vanished because Georgians lost their jobs, lost their businesses, lost their purchasing power. If Georgians’ tax liability fell because of hard times, then by nature, the school systems must fall on hard times as well.

No, Tom, the governor cannot restore the $7 billion. He just must deal with whatever reality life hands him today.

Sweet son

“throwing money at it.”

It oftentimes seems that the statement above is a negative comment about educational funding. But will 'throwing money at it' fix anything? Giving teachers raises and reducing furlough days will do nothing except increase their take home pay. Repairing broken water fountains and repairing holes in school walls will do no more than make facilities look better.

If we throw money at something then it should be thrown at the revival of the American family and the mores that were a gigantic part of the success of our great nation. Entitlement reduction, families with two parents and just the basic overhaul of the family unit would do more to help the failing educational system.

Am I dreaming? Is it a 'pie in the sky idea?' NO! Teachers are good. Some are better than others but most are capable of teaching if they have students who want to learn. If students come from homes where there is no structure or role models then they are doomed to failure.

Do I have a great idea where to send Deal's millions of dollars to fix the failing schools? No! But I do believe that the problem is much greater than teacher salaries and ragged school buildings. The problem is nothing more than lack of parenting by people on entitlement programs or those who make large salaries. In either case parents think of nothing more than themselves and take no responsibility for properly rearing the children that they have produced.

Our nation is doomed unless parents take responsibility for the establishment of a family unit that lends itself to teach success rather than allow failure.

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