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More than talk needed
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There is an oft used Chinese proverb that says, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." In 2002 teachers were one of the constituencies that turned against Gov. Roy Barnes because of his ill-fated attempt to pick a fight with more than 100,000 teachers. He proposed eliminating teacher tenure, something that really didn’t exist.

Though Gov. Sonny Perdue told Morris News Service in 2002, "Education is a priority. We’re going to budget our priorities to meet the needs of this state," almost immediately after taking office -- still in the swirl of educational hyperbole -- Perdue, using the state’s declining revenues as an excuse, started cutting $1 billion out of the state’s education budgets. Perdue’s 2009 budget continues this trend to the tune of $171.7 million. Why?

Financially, according to Perdue, Georgia is doing quite well. During his State of the State address, he said Georgia was able to afford over five years "$2.8 billion in tax relief." This year he’s proposing a senior income tax cut and a $94 million cut in ad valorem taxes. Still, the governor preaches "Education is the best investment we can make in our future... We’ve kept our teachers the highest paid in the Southeast..." Teachers can "all look forward to the $100 classroom gift card..."

Using $6.4 million in lottery funds, Perdue wants to increase the number of pre-K slots to 79,000. He’s proposed spending $14.25 million on his VIP Recruiter program aimed at increasing parental participation and $65 million for transportation (buses) and technology, plus a 2.5 percent teacher raise.

The devil, however, is in the details, and those details spell trouble for Georgia’s 180 school systems. While there are bright spots in education, the state’s fourth-graders, according to Education Week’s 2008 Quality Counts report, trail the nation in math and reading. As far as overall student achievement, the state received a D+ (see the complete report at / Hardly the time to continue the austerity cuts.

The governor’s proposal, in reality, is an educational cost shift. All of the federal and state unfunded mandates won’t disappear. The only thing changing is that local taxpayers will have to pay more of the bill. That’s why the Consortium for Adequate School Funding, a coalition of 51 school systems, filed suit against the state, charging that schools are "chronically underfunded."

Words are fine and dandy from the state’s chief executive; however, to paraphrase Rod Tidwell in the 1996 movie "Jerry Maguire," all the state’s schools want the governor to do is, "Show them the money," not an educational shell game.


Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Jan. 28, 2008


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