After agriculture, the top industries in rural Georgia are manufacturing, retail and health care. Many of those jobs could fall prey to automation in the next decade, said Pruitt.
The Legislature is full of rural lawmakers, yet rural kids get short shrift. For example, another push for vouchers in the guise of education savings accounts is likely this session.
Despite the insistence of voucher proponents there is no adverse financial impact on public education when kids use vouchers to attend private schools, that's false, said Stephen Owens, a senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute. Owens focuses on state polices and research that affect public K-12 education.
Rural Georgia districts rely far more on state funding than high-wealth districts in metro Atlanta. “If they lose three students and the state funding that goes with them, they can’t cut three seats off a school bus. They can’t fire one-seventh of a teacher, and they can’t turn down the heat three students worth,” said Owens. “There are so many fixed costs.”
Rural Georgia nets no benefit from a voucher program, said Owens in an interview after the forum. Even if parents could supplement the voucher and afford private school tuition, many families lack any private school options.
“It could require driving 40 miles to the nearest private school. Vouchers are just not a viable solution for the vast majority of the state geographically,” said Owens.
Rural legislators ought to also pay attention to efforts this session to rein in the rising costs of dual enrollment; their students make greater use of the program than the five-county metro area, said Owens.
Metro districts have more AP courses, and some schools offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate diploma program. That array of high-quality choices in their own schools may be why only 1 in 20 students in the five-county metro area participate in dual enrollment.
In rural Georgia, 1 in 5 students participate in dual enrollments, and rates are highest at the schools with the fewest AP offerings. Only 29% of rural students have access to an AP class, said Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber, adding, "Dual enrollment becomes their AP class."