Bravo, Governor Perdue
In January, Georgia Trend declared itself a "Voice in the Wilderness," crying for state leaders to restore more than $750 million in education funding that had been cut. But, after almost a year of concern as Georgia slipped back to 50th place in the country in SAT scores, we now find that help is finally on the way.
In a stunning announcement during the Georgia Chamber of Commerce meeting in early January, Gov. Sonny Perdue said he was adding a billion dollars back into Georgia's education system. In doing so, he undercut the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Mark Taylor and Cathy Cox. One of their major issues for the upcoming election was that Perdue was brain dead on education.
To those who say Perdue is playing politics by waiting until his fourth year in office to focus on education, we say "so what?" If it takes an upcoming election to get Georgia's education engines cranked up, we don't care. We just want it done. Here's how the money will be spent:
- $163 million for lowering class sizes for kindergarten through eighth grades. Studies have proven that children form learning habits early. These dollars will boost face time between students and teachers.
- $447 million in classroom construction and buses to help overcrowded schools. This should result in more instruction time for students.
- $217 million will be used for all Georgia teachers to receive a 4 percent pay raise, although more than 50 percent of state teachers will actually receive a 7 percent raise. Teachers have fallen behind the past few years because they have seen small salary increases and major jumps in health insurance costs.
- $138 million to help the state pick up increases in health insurance, so teachers won't have to. (This and the previous item will have to please Georgia's teachers, who make up a large voting bloc.)
- $10 million will help pay for basic school supplies. Because of lack of funds in many systems, teachers have had to pay for supplies out of their own pockets.
- $2.3 million will go toward a middle school remediation program to help students in grades six through eight complete ninth grade. This will address the problem of unprepared students, who move through the system by what used to be called "social promotion." Some 90 percent of these students will leave school when they turn 16, and many wind up in our prison system.
- $1.5 million will be directed to train principals to expand their skills in school leadership, including data analysis and management techniques.
- $3 million will be spent to recruit "high performance principals" for approximately 300 schools, many of which are performing poorly. The money will be used as additional compensation for principals to help with some poorer systems, and to attract the best available administrators. This will also address the problem of a majority of Georgia's principals who are reaching retirement age.
A requirement that at least 65 percent of all education dollars be spent in the classroom, rather than on administrative overhead, is in the governor's plan. This is the most controversial of his proposals. Critics say the definition of classroom expenditures includes arts and athletics at the expense of teacher training, guidance counselors, nurses and librarians. Things like building maintenance will be adversely affected.
Cox and Taylor will have to find other ways to beat Perdue this fall. They will have to shift to issues including availability of good jobs, now that Ford, GM and four military bases are moving out of Georgia. Transportation around Atlanta is a major problem, and the future water supply is in question. Health care, freedom of information and Sunshine law reform are concerns. We need a natural gas pipeline between Savannah and Atlanta. President Bush's unpopularity could help Democrats, but he may gain ground if troops start coming home.
But education is off the table. Education is being addressed - at last.
Neely Young is editor in chief and publisher of Georgia Trend. Contact him via e-mail at publisher@georgiatrend.