Lawmakers hear a lot on education listening tour


Usually, they’re the ones doing the talking.

State Rep. Brooks Coleman of Duluth and state Sen. Lindsey Tippins of Marietta, Republicans who chair the House and Senate education committees, hold great sway when the Legislature is in session. In recent weeks, however, both men have been traveling across the state on an education listening tour.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coleman said they’ve gotten an earful.

Stick with the national set of academic standards called Common Core, superintendents, teachers and parents have told them. Maintain grants to poor, rural districts. Boost the Internet processing speed and capacity in smaller, rural districts. Most of all, though, ease the financial squeeze districts have endured over the past several years.

State revenues are picking up, but Coleman said he’s been careful not to promise that “austerity cuts” – reductions to education funding legislators have made during tight budgetary times – would completely disappear.

“There’s no way to fully restore it,” Coleman said. “But maybe we’re able to chip away at it, chip away at it. That’s what we need to look at.”

Any additional state funding would be welcomed by local school districts.

A survey of school districts by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute – a research group that, like Democrats in the state Legislature, has called for more state funding for public education – found that the vast majority of districts in Georgia have taken dramatic steps to balance their budgets. Those steps include shortening their academic calendars, reducing their teaching staffs and increasing class sizes.

GBPI send out surveys this past summer to all of the state’s 180 school districts. The group got responses from 140 districts, which educate nearly 93 percent of the state’s public school, K-12 students.

The survey found:

- More than 95 percent of districts reported that class sizes have increased since 2009.

- More than 90 percent of districts reported having fewer teachers in 2013 than they had in 2009.

- About 80 percent of districts reported that they are furloughing teachers this school year. Of those districts, 69 percent are furloughing teachers for five days or more.

- 82 percent of districts reported that they spent less on instructional materials in 2013 than they did in 2009.

- About 42 percent of districts have cut or eliminated art and music programs, and 62 percent have cut or eliminated other elective courses.

- The percentage of districts with 180 days of classroom instruction has shrunk from 90 percent in 2009-2010 to 29 percent this school year. Most districts have cut instructional time by five or fewer days, but 14 have cut instructional time by at least 10 days.

The survey, which GBPI titled “Cutting Class to Make Ends Meet,” offered a comprehensive view of what school district officials have been complaining about.

Public education in Georgia “is being bled dry,” said Bill Truby, superintendent of schools in Lamar County in northwest Georgia. “It really is.”

Coleman said he knows many districts have been having a hard time.

“Some are just about to go bankrupt,” he said.

Attempting to balance the state budget in tough times, state legislators withheld nearly $8 billion from school districts over the past decade. School districts have taxing authority, but that tax revenue is tied to local property values, which plunged during the economic downturn.

Districts scrambled to balance their budgets, as required by state law.

“We’re being asked to do a whole lot more now with a lot less,” said Allen Fort, superintendent in Quitman County, in southwest Georgia along the Alabama state line.

Coleman said he and Tippins, who have been joined on their listening tour by staff from the state Department of Education, will have two more sessions – one in Savannah and one in Augusta.

When they’re done, they plan to meet with representatives of the governor’s office, the lieutenant governor’s office and the office of the Speaker of the House.

Coleman said no one he’s talked to on the tour has expected the Legislature to instantly solve all of the school districts’ financial problems. But they do want help.

“They realize funding is still tough,” he said. “Revenues are up, but we’ve got so many demands.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Opinion: Improving school nutrition will improve student learning
Opinion: Improving school nutrition will improve student learning

Caitlin Daugherty Kokenes is a project associate with the G eorgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. She holds a master’s in public policy from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a master’s in Hispanic studies from Auburn University, as well as an undergraduate degree in political science and Spanish...
Cheerleaders continue to take a knee at Kennesaw State football games
Cheerleaders continue to take a knee at Kennesaw State football games

Four Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were seen taking a knee in the stadium tunnel during the national anthem at the university’s football game Saturday evening, continuing their protest to raise awareness about police misconduct and racial inequality. The protest is part of an ongoing controversy on the 35,000 student campus that has...
Carstarphen: APS should be part of city’s Emory annexation
Carstarphen: APS should be part of city’s Emory annexation

Atlanta Public Schools should expand with the growing city limits, the superintendent said Friday, in a reaffirmation of the district’s stance about the city of Atlanta’s proposed annexation of the area around Emory University. “We anticipate that the public and the community will understand that we are a district that wants to grow...
Tex McIver’s release from jail expected next week
Tex McIver’s release from jail expected next week

Atlanta attorney Claud “Tex” McIver is likely to be released on bond from jail next week, providing him a four-month respite from incarceration before his murder trial begins March 5, his attorney said Friday. “The time will help Tex,” said lead defense attorney William Hill. Hill said McIver, 74, has lost upwards of 30 pounds...
DeKalb schools has new plan to make up class time lost during Tropical Storm Irma
DeKalb schools has new plan to make up class time lost during Tropical Storm Irma

The DeKalb County School District will keep its extended school day schedule through the month of November to make up time lost because of Tropical Storm Irma. The school district announced Friday that students would remain in school for an additional 20 minutes through Nov. 30. The district already implemented the extended class day for October. ...
More Stories