Red, Blue & You: Education is a Team Sport

Georgia will only realize its full potential when legislators, businesses and individuals come together to make education the best it can be.
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It’s no secret that the State of Georgia is struggling with its public education system. We spend an average of $11,200 per student, per year in this state, and while that may sound like a lot, we rank 33rd in the nation in per-student spending. That spending is not equitably distributed either, with some school systems spending as little as $9,500 per student and others spending more than $15,000 each. The state legislature bears a lot of responsibility for the discrepancy. The funding formula used to determine education spending, which makes up roughly half of the state budget, has not been updated in decades and has been underfunded for the majority of that time.

As a result, many students have not had key resources they need to succeed, a problem which the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated to historic levels. Georgia students lost over four months of learning in math between 2019 and 2022 and almost two months in reading.

While state government can and should rectify these inequities, that is a slow process which often takes years of research, debate and voting before any solutions are actually implemented. Our students cannot afford to wait that long, which is why it is time for another sector to step up – the businesses that rely on a strong education system to thrive.

Public-private partnerships in education are nothing new. Delta Air Lines, for example, is a signature partner with Atlanta Public Schools (APS), providing significant resources to the district including donations to Hutchinson and Dobbs elementary schools in South Atlanta. These resources support tutoring, literacy coaches and teacher appreciation events. They have also created a “Reading Buddies” program together, where Delta employees can take time to volunteer in local schools and read to students.

Norfolk Southern has also partnered with two APS schools, Humphries Elementary and Dunbar Elementary. The schools each receive $10,000 annually and employees participate in reading events alongside donating books to students and to the libraries.

NCR, Porsche, Truist and PNC banks and the Atlanta Braves are among the district’s hundreds of partners as well, according to Joi Hunter, executive director of partnerships and development at APS.

These partnerships help fill the gap when funding falls short of what our students need. The businesses that have already taken steps to invest in local communities are doing so not just out of a sense of altruism – they are making a prudent financial decision. Our state is only as strong as its public education system, as the vast majority of workers come out of those public schools. Training a first-class workforce begins in the kindergarten classroom with the ABCs.

Even if our public schools were fully funded according to the existing formula, a child’s educational success is just as dependent on their life outside of the classroom as inside, if not more so. A child could be in a class with Georgia’s Teacher of the Year, but if they show up to a classroom hungry it may be impossible for them to learn.

Georgia businesses, both big and small, have not just an opportunity but an obligation to invest in wraparound services for the kids who need it most in the communities that generate their profits. We all live in a society. Education is its foundation. The growing disparity in education between those who have the most and least among us threatens the future of our state. It is not a problem that exists in a silo – it affects our ability to attract and retain businesses, to develop a capable workforce and make it possible for our residents to live happy, meaningful lives. As companies reap record profits at a time of 40-year-high inflation, there is no excuse for them to waiver in their support. They must invest back into the state.

Education is not a task that should be left solely to teachers and administrators, and it is wrong to assume that the learning process begins and ends in the classroom. We all have a responsibility to look at the ways we can support our kids, whether it’s a $1 million check or an hour out of the day to play basketball after school.

Education sits at the center of progress and our state will only realize its full potential when we all come together – legislators, individuals and businesses – to make it the best it can be.

Categories: Opinions, Red Blue & You