Governor's budget bites schools

For educators, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s final proposed budget looked pretty much like the past seven — hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to schools.

Under Perdue’s spending plan, released Friday, k-12 schools will get less in state money during the upcoming year than they did when the governor began his second and final term in 2007.

The spending cuts, if approved, will mean less money in the pocket of most teachers and school employees, fewer options for some aspiring teachers and less aid for some private college students. Some school districts may raise property taxes to make up the difference in what the state is providing.

Perdue, who has included “austerity” cuts to every k-12 budget since taking office in 2003, had little choice. With tax collections down because of the recession, the governor, who is serving his last year in office, had to slash $1.2 billion in state spending this year. To do that, he had to go where the money is: education.

School spending makes up more than half of the state’s $18.6 billion budget.

Federal stimulus money will help prop up school funding somewhat, but it won’t completely make up for cutbacks in Perdue’s budget that include:

● $187 million that the state will save by making teachers and school employees take six days off without pay. Most educators have taken three days, and they will have to take three more during the next 5 1/2 months unless their school districts come up with the money to avoid more furloughs.

● A $800 million reduction in the basic funding schools receive this year and in fiscal 2011, which begins July 1.

● The elimination of grants to about 30,000 private college students. The Tuition Equalization Grant program, designed to help students afford a private college education, costs the state about $29 million per year.

● $147 million cut from University System instruction funding this fiscal year.

● The elimination of programs that provide incentives for teachers to get advanced degrees in critical shortage areas and to entice college students to become teachers. Combined, those cut will save the state about $11 million a year.

● A $3.7 million hit to the state’s libraries.

● The elimination of the stipends the state gives to more than 2,000 of its most highly certified teachers, saving the government $7 million. The amount National Board Certified-teachers had received was cut in half last year.

Perdue said he did his best to make sure schools took less of a hit than other state agencies.

“Education will not get all the money it deserves or has received in the past but will be treated as a favored son or daughter,” Perdue said.

Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she is troubled but not surprised by the proposed cuts.

“There has been a pattern of cutting education the past few years,” she said. “We have to be concerned about our children. We can’t balance the budget on the backs of our children.”

But Hugley said lawmakers also understand how bad the state’s financial situation is.

By the time lawmakers finish the 2010 session, the state budget for this fiscal year will be $3.7 billion less than the spending plan the General Assembly approved in the spring of 2008. The budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 will be smaller than the spending plan legislators approved in the spring of 2006.

Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said educators expected the worst when they saw state tax collections plummet last year.

“It is alarming to see what has happened to public education and every other service in this state,” he said.

Gwinnett County school board member Mary Kay Murphy said cuts were expected. She was particularly unhappy with the cut to the national-board-certified teachers program. “These are the very last things we want to cut because we’re so appreciative of the role teachers play in our student achievement.”

She said teachers, despite it all, have remained resilient and positive.

“They understand this is a national emergency in many ways,” Murphy said.

However Mark Kienast, a history teacher at Fayette County’s McIntosh High School, called the governor’s proposed cuts to education “absolutely flooring.”

“It’s amazing with the governor on the way out he’s sabotaging education at the last minute,” said Kienast, who has taught 16 years.

His wife, Laura, also teaches, and the three extra furlough days will cost them a combined $900.

“I don’t think they understand the human costs,” he said.