Since Gov. Sonny Perdue took the state’s reins in 2003, he has methodically cut $1.4 billion in funds that would have gone to the state’s school systems. The upcoming budget is no different: Perdue has recommended $140 million in education "austerity cuts" for fiscal 2009, which begins in July. Since his election, he has successfully reversed the course of previous governors who had hoped to improve Georgia’s dismal record in public education by providing money for trouble areas. Perdue’s cuts have shifted a greater burden on local school systems that are forced to raise taxes as they seek to contend with unfunded state and federal mandates.There is a possibility, however, that political reality - every member of the General Assembly is up for re-election this fall - may provide the impetus for lawmakers to begin to restore at least some of Perdue’s cuts. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Friday that the House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans, says he hopes the Legislature will be able to pump and extra $140 million back into public education. This effort enjoys the support of members of both parties, and Democrats, who as a minority are usually relegated to the sidelines, fully support Harbin and the GOP leadership for the promise to end school funding cuts. State Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus, told the AP he is "delighted that House Republicans have finally realized what this has done to Georgia’s schools and property owners."
If the House is successful in restoring the funding to the budget and the Senate goes along, this would mean school systems would receive an extra $87 in funding per student statewide. At present, the Senate seems amenable to restoring some, if not all, of the austerity cuts for the coming fiscal year. The Senate, in giving the nod to a fiscal 2008 mid-year budget, included more than $70 million that could also go toward school funding next year, the AJC reported.
None of this, of course, is engraved in stone. Gov. Perdue is currently at war with the House - more accurately, with House Speaker Glenn Richardson, a Republican from Hiram, over a tax cut for property owners that Richardson had sought and Perdue blocked. The House, in retaliation, overrode about a dozen vetoes the governor lodged in the last session against a number of relatively unimportant measures. The Senate, on the other hand, seems more inclined to see that Perdue’s wishes are met, and it’s anyone’s guess whether or not the Senate will feel the same constituent pressure to restore state school funds. It would give the state’s education effort a huge boost should this funding be approved. The Republican leadership is on the right track, and it should be encouraged to continue to work to ensure this funding becomes a reality.
- Macon Telegraph