70 years after Brown, Georgia is moving in the wrong direction

Full funding improves neighborhood schools, giving all children the chance to learn and thrive.
Georgia Youth Justice Coalition member Ava Bussey speaks to members of the media Sept. 14 outside the Cobb County School District building with other members of the coalition. (Hyosub Shin/Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Georgia Youth Justice Coalition member Ava Bussey speaks to members of the media Sept. 14 outside the Cobb County School District building with other members of the coalition. (Hyosub Shin/Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

As young Georgians, we share the belief that all children should have the freedom to pursue their dreams and that our futures depend on receiving a great education. To get there, we must equip every public school with the resources to deliver a quality education for every child, no matter their color, their ZIP code or how much money their parents make.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in yet another moment of massive resistance to public education with increasingly aggressive efforts on behalf of the state of Georgia to privatize our public schools and return us to a two-tiered system marked by racial segregation. As public school students in high schools across Georgia, we believe that the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education is not just a cause for celebration but an invitation to recommit ourselves to the promise of a public education system that affirms an essential truth: Schools separated by race will never be equal.

Even as our country celebrates the anniversary of Brown this month, we know that our state actively worked to obstruct desegregation, which did not meaningfully take place for another 15 years. Seven years after the Supreme Court’s ruling that separating children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional, the Georgia General Assembly revoked its school segregation law in 1961. Another 10 years later, a court-ordered desegregation plan finally took effect — in 1971.

In 2024, educators across Georgia, from Albany to Atlanta, from Valdosta to Vinings, from Dalton to Dublin, and everywhere in between, are working hard to provide students like us with a quality education, empowering us to build a brighter future in Georgia for all. Yet politicians in the Georgia Capitol seem dedicated to resegregating and privatizing our public schools by taking tax dollars meant to support all of the students in our communities and giving it to unaccountable voucher programs that favor the wealthiest few.

The long and shameful history of vouchers is something that politicians who forced them to become law this year don’t want us to know. In many cities, public education funding was funneled to private “segregation academies” where white children received better resources than children of color. Instead of making our public schools stronger and moving us all forward together, these politicians are defunding our public schools by more than $100 million and working to drag us backward to the days when Georgia was still resisting court-ordered desegregation.

We want our leaders to get serious about what works: fully funding our public schools so that we can improve our neighborhood schools. That’s where 1.7 million public school students in Georgia learn and grow, and where we all can have a say. Research all across the country shows that voucher programs will not improve student outcomes in Georgia, but we know what will best serve students.

Young Georgians like us need investments in our public schools so we have the opportunity to learn and thrive. Gov. Brian P. Kemp has $16 billion of unspent public funds — enough to cover the costs of funding our schools and investing in our communities. Georgia has one of the highest overall rates of child poverty in the nation. Yet our state is one of only six states that provides schools with no specific funding to support children living in poverty. By refusing to give our schools what they need, we are setting our schools and our students up for failure.

Politicians brag about Georgia’s teachers being among the highest paid in the South even though they know they have created a crisis around public education that puts our teachers, our parents and students like us in an impossible position. Right now, nearly every school district in Georgia operates with a waiver to avoid adhering to classroom size restrictions because they cannot afford to hire enough teachers. And though the American School Counseling Association recommends a counselor-to-student ratio of 1:250, Georgia mandates a counselor-to-student ratio of 1:450 students. Many schools cannot even meet that ratio because of a lack of funding. All of that is by design because politicians have refused to update Georgia’s school funding formula for nearly 40 years.

This year, as we celebrate 70 years since Brown v. Board of Education, we invite every Georgian to join us in our call for fully funded neighborhood public schools so that every Georgia student has an inviting classroom, a well-rounded curriculum, small class sizes and the freedom to learn.

The writers are members of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. Nia G. Batra is a sophomore at Decatur High School. Hunter Buchheit is a senior at Walton High School. Ava Bussey is a senior at Marietta High School. Keara Field is a senior at McDonough High School. Saif Hasan is a junior at Lambert High School. Jessica Huang is a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School. Shivi Mehta is a junior at the Alliance Academy for Innovation. Bryan Nguyen is a senior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. Rhea Sethi is a senior at North Gwinnett High School. Maariya Sheikh is a senior at Campbell High School. Harrison Tran is a junior at Jenkins High School. Sharmada Venkataramani is a sophomore at South Forsyth High School. Thomas Botero Mendieta is a junior at Archer High School. Kennedy Young is a senior at Campbell High School.