It is certainly a dismal financial time for k-12 public education in our state. If it were simply an economic crisis, educators might be able to hunker down and ride it out. But instead, a “perfect storm” of prior-year “austerity cuts,” now totaling $2 billion, has joined with a threadbare funding mechanism that dates back to the mid-1980s. The two have collided head-on with the severe economic downturn and the result is that our school systems are quickly moving from how best to educate the next generation to how cheaply they can do it.
Four-day school weeks won’t help our students, particularly those struggling to succeed. Cuts in staff, increased class size and reductions in programs across the board aren’t going to properly educate tomorrow’s citizens, nor are they likely to attract new business and industry to our state.
We are digging ourselves into a hole from which we will not readily emerge. It would be a great time for bold and visionary leadership. A great time to legislatively revisit, review and update the funding formula for the 21st century — a task our current governor fumbled away two years ago. While they are at it, the legislature might set into motion a review process for our system of state revenue, which also could benefit from being brought into the 21st century. We can hope that our legislators step up to this challenge and not “hunker down” themselves.
Business as usual would certainly be an unwelcome fourth element to our “perfect storm.” At such a critical time, we call on legislators to avoid postponing difficult tasks or meekly accepting a “kick the can down the road,” “let’s furlough and slash our way to next year” budget without addressing the structural problems that are crippling our state’s educators and shortchanging the futures of our students.
Will the legacy of elected officials from this time be, “We saw the crisis, shrugged our shoulders and fiddled while Rome burned?” We hope not. This same group will be asking educators, their families and parents across the state to vote for them this coming November. Performance and accountability are terms legislators often use when talking about education. Perhaps the time has come for all of us to measure them by their own yardsticks.
Allene Magill is the executive director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE).
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