Budget woes lead off a list of the top 10 issues facing educators this year.
The list, released annually by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, was unveiled Friday during a media conference in Atlanta.
As state lawmakers prepare to cut spending to stave off a multibillion-dollar revenue deficit, experts expect education spending to take a bigger brunt of cuts than in previous years.
Lawmakers have slashed education spending by nearly $500 million from 2003 to 2009 through austerity cuts, reductions in the Quality Basic Education funding formula.
Austerity cuts for next year might top $1 billion, according to literature provided at the conference.
"I hadn't seen that graphic yet," state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said at the conference while viewing a projection of a pair of scissors cutting through a $1 bill. "That kind of sums it up, doesn't it?"
To help local school boards better manage dwindling state funds, Cox said she hopes to persuade legislators to increase class-size flexibility.
Gov. Sonny Perdue allowed school boards to increase class sizes at the start of the school year. With the increase, Columbia County's school board was able to cut about 70 teaching positions.
Alan Essig, the executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, noted that 96 percent of the state budget is spent on education, health care, public safety, transportation, Department of Human Services and debt service.
It is only by making cuts in those areas that lawmakers can hope to produce a significant savings, Essig said.
Because 80 percent of education's $9.8 billion budget is spent on salaries, Essig agreed with Cox on eliminating teaching positions through class-size reductions, but he also suggested pay cuts.
Other top issues were Race to the Top, the federally funded competitive grants introduced last year by President Obama; using the Common Core Standards as a means of comparing student achievement on a national scale; improving data systems; improving teacher quality; turning around low-achieving schools; improving access to college; expanding charter schools; stifling education lawsuits; and improving education in rural areas.
For more information, visit www.gpee.org.
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