Gwinnett Intervention Education (G.I.V.E) Center West teacher Topaz Thompson holds a sign last month thanking Gov. Nathan Deal during a press conference for the Hungry for Education movement at Christ Church Episcopal Parish Hall in Norcoss,. This year is the first time in 15 years that Georgia school budgets are without austerity cuts. The Hungry for Education movement hopes to shed a light on Georgia school's full funding and gain support for its permanence from gubernatorial candidates Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp. 
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/AJC
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/AJC

Georgia GOP leader: We’re not neglecting schools or teachers 

A leading House Republican says I’ve been unfair in my characterization of school funding in Georgia and a few other education issues, including teacher pay and status.

In a guest column, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, details what he considers misrepresentations of how well Georgia funds schools and teachers.

Here are links to some of my pieces to which he refers:

New Poll: Majority of parents don’t want their kids to become teachers

Political rhetoric: Create great schools. Political reality: Too costly

New Report: You can’t work your way through college anymore

By Terry England

I appreciate this opportunity to respond to recent “Get Schooled” columns that together have painted an extremely negative and misleading picture of public education in Georgia. 

Columnist Maureen Downey, largely using national sources without up-to-date information about Georgia, conveyed in August to your readers that public schools are terribly underfunded, that tuition is so high that you can’t work your way through college anymore — and that teachers are so underpaid and unappreciated that parents no longer want their children to become teachers.

Since Ms. Downey’s columns had neither perspective nor balance, I would like to offer both as chairman of the appropriations committee in the Georgia House of Representatives. 

When Gov. Nathan Deal took office eight years ago, state revenues in the General Fund — our main operating account — were $3 billion below what they had been three years earlier in FY2008 before the Great Recession impacted us. 

Over the first three years of Gov. Deal’s first term, revenues remained below the General Fund's pre-recession threshold of $18.5 billion, and from FY2012-2014 the state cumulatively had $4.9 billion less to use for schools and other state services. 

Thankfully, by the end of the governor's first term, strong economic development finally lifted state revenues to what they had been seven years earlier. 

Then following years of record-breaking global economic development in Georgia, we learned in March that General Fund revenues for this fiscal year would top $22.5 billion. This enabled the Georgia General Assembly to fully fund the Quality Basic Education formula for the first time since 2003. 

I also want to make clear that even when we were unable to fully fund the QBE, never during Gov. Deal's administration have we cut overall spending for schools. 

Our annual appropriations to the Georgia Department of Education went up every year. In fact, over the past eight years, we have added to the state budget a cumulative $10.9 billion in new funding for K-12. 

Much of the additional funding has been to keep up with rising enrollment. The 150,000 new students added since 2011 make Georgia's the seventh largest public school system in the nation. 

Georgia also has the seventh largest number of public school teachers. Their average teacher salary is $56,329. 

Now to address the cost of college tuition in Georgia.  

Georgia residents have many affordable options to further their educations at our state-funded universities, colleges and technical colleges — especially under the HOPE program that covers 90-100 percent of tuition for eligible students.

Without financial aid, average tuition for two semesters at our four publicly funded research universities is $9,234; at our comprehensive universities, it is $5,354; at state universities, $5,136; at state colleges offering a balance of associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, $3,216; at state colleges awarding mainly associate degrees but some select bachelor-degree programs, $2,780, and at the state’s 22 technical colleges, $2,670. 

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.

The HOPE Scholarship, begun in 1994 by Gov. Zell Miller, has been expanded by Gov. Deal to include the Zell Miller Scholarship for public colleges, the Zell Miller scholarship for private colleges, the Zell Miller Grant, and, most recently, the HOPE Career Grant for students pursuing training in 17 high-demand fields. The career grant is awarded on top of the HOPE and Zell Miller grants to help cover the cost of books and fees. Over the past seven years, 1.3 million Georgia residents have received $4 billion in tuition assistance through these grants and scholarships. 

As you can see, this Republican governor and the Republican leadership in the Georgia General Assembly have not neglected Georgia’s schools, teachers or college students.

For the AJC to perpetuate a pointless “us” versus “them” dynamic between Georgia teachers and the Georgia General Assembly is just wrong. 

I want to assure our state's 114,000 teachers that we continue to respect and appreciate them, and we will continue to support them.

About the Author

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