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Gov. Deal's teacher raise: Is it bid to win support for his takeover district?

In this pungent piece, former south Georgia superintendent Jim Arnold takes on the governor and state education spending.

Arnold questions whether Gov. Nathan Deal's "teacher raise" is an attempt to build support for the November constitutional amendment empowering the state to take over failing schools.

By Jim Arnold

Most Georgians are old enough to remember Gov. Sonny Perdue’s gift card program for teachers. Sonny heard teachers were spending their own money on pencils, paper and classroom supplies, so, out of his great concern for the welfare of Georgia’s teachers in an election year, he authorized about $10 million dollars in $100 gift cards, one for every teacher in every classroom.

Rather than raise the amount of money available for teachers to spend on supplies and classroom materials, or, God forbid, give them a raise, Perdue -- the inventor of austerity cuts for education -- saw he might get a lot of votes for what amounted to a miniscule investment. Sure, it was an election year gimmick, but he showed his concern for teachers by handing out those cards and by imposing the 65 percent rule that said libraries and media centers and counselors weren’t really valid educational expenditures.

Go Fish...I mean, go figure.

Gov. Nathan Deal liked the austerity cuts so much he built upon the idea that balancing the state budget on the backs of teachers and students was not only an acceptable method but fit well with the narrative of failing public schools and bad teachers and poor test scores and that the real silver bullets to educational progress were things like privatization and charters and vouchers.

The state Department of Education lists these austerity cuts (rounded):

$135 million in 2003             $283 million in 2004

$333 million in 2005            $333 million in 2006

$170 million in 2007             $143 million in 2008

$496 million in 2009             $1.4 billion in 2010

$1.1 billion in 2011            $1.1 billion in 2012

$1.1 billion in 2013            $1.1 billion in 2014.

$747 million for 2015            $466 million in 2016

What happened was predictable. Districts with a solid tax base made cuts and lost teachers but were still able to provide most important services. The ones that were really hurt were the poorer systems. They had few financial reserves to fall back on, and their tax base did not allow them to absorb the massive cuts from state funds. They cut teachers, services and shortened the school year by as much as 20 days. My colleagues in other states didn’t know what furlough days were. We explained it to them.

There were 1,615,066 students in Georgia public schools K-12 and 120,660 teachers to teach them in 2009. In 2013, GaDOE reported slightly more than 1,700,000 students and 112,177 teachers.

Anyway you count it, public education has lost more than 8,500 teachers and gained a significant number of students, increasing class sizes dramatically. And this occurred against a backdrop of no raises, layoffs in many systems, furloughs that took money out of teachers’ pockets, higher property taxes, higher insurance costs, loss of planning time, elimination of professional development funds, lack of instructional funds, demise of band, chorus, orchestra, art and elective classes, destruction of motivation and creativity through the institution of phony magic bullet reforms, continuation of the “blame the teacher” mindset, insistence on teaching to the test and for the test, growing numbers of children in poverty, junk science of value-added models of teacher evaluation, unrealistic expectations for students and teachers, dearth of resources for students with special needs or remediation, insanity of proclaiming “if everyone is not succeeding then everyone must be failing"  and inanity of Student Learning Objectives for non-tested subjects.

It’s an absolute miracle people still want to be teachers.

Let’s be honest. Because of their tax base, larger systems will be able to give a one-time 2 to 3 percent raise for all employees. Not just teachers, all employees. Teachers don’t work without janitors and lunchroom workers and secretaries and bus drivers and administrators any more than legislators work without lobbyists or re-election in mind.

The smaller systems, because of 13 years of successive cuts in state funds, will have to use the money to lower class sizes or reduce furlough days or make up for some of the other things -- staff development, classified employee insurance, books, pencils, paper, busses -- they had to cut as state support dwindled.

If the governor really wanted to give teachers a raise, it would be simple. He could do what every other governor has done to raise teacher pay; make adjustments to the state salary schedule. Since Deal chose not to do so, I suspect, just as with Gov. Perdue’s gift cards, an ulterior motive. It’s not an election year for the governor, and he is in his last term in office.

Deal does, however, want to amend the state constitution to give him the power to take over “failing” schools and appoint an unelected superintendent that reports to him so together they can “save” poor kids and the educational process.

So is the governor giving teachers a raise or is it an incentive for teachers to look a little more favorably on the Opportunity School District?

I’m not sure about that one, but if I cut my kid’s allowance for 13 months while increasing his chores and, then in the 14th month, recognize the error of my ways and give him an extra 25 cents for one month only, I’m pretty sure I know what his reaction would be.

Same as mine.  I’m not buying it. Neither should you.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.