Sunday, February 19, 2006

Georgia Republicans "Abandoning Public Education"

Today's staff editorial in The Macon Telegraph, "Removing Local School Control an Asinine Idea, is a must-read. The editorial board observes that the real question the Perdue Team is grappling with is:

"How can we appear to promote education without paying for it?"

The Telegraph editorial board is on point when defining SB 390 (Perdue's 65%=Failure legislation) as no more than a "power grab." In fact, during the debate on this bill in the Georgia House, some Republican members even suggested getting rid of local boards of education. Why not County Commissions and City Councils as well? Apparently these folks think that a few guys in Atlanta know better than all the rest of us. Have these fellows forgotten who they work for? Have they forgotten that the people also elect the boards they propose to dissolve? Apparently so.

In Atlanta, the Republican leadership is drunk with power, threatening to clear the gallery of parents and teachers and excluding anyone from the discussion that does not share their point of view. The only check for them, apparently, will be at the ballot box. We need new leadership; leadership that will welcome everyone with a good idea for Georgia to the discussion. Leadership that values public schools and is invested in opportunity for all Georgians.

The Perdue Team, despite election year, sound-bite ready legislation, has yet to present a substantive plan for moving Georgia out of the education cellar. Instead they continue their consistent track record of de-valuing public education.

Here is the entire article:

"It was too much to expect from the Georgia Legislature to get through the 2006 session without doing something really stupid. That said, they have outdone themselves.
Thursday, the House passed its version of Senate Bill 390, 102-70, which requires the state's 180 school systems to spend 65 percent of their revenue in the classroom. Proponents say the 65 percent rule will put $192 million in the classroom instead of going to pay for administration and other items.
On the surface the 65 percent rule appears to be a good idea. Lawmakers speaking for the bill talked about bloated bureaucracies siphoning off money that should have been spent in classrooms for education. They pointed to the 64 systems already meeting the 65 percent threshold as examples of higher SAT and CRT scores. Again, it sounds really good.
Most citizens are probably unaware that the state already mandates where money can be spent, and, according to opponents of the measure, the percentage spent in the classroom has little relationship with higher scores.
Here are some of the expenses the bill, which has to go back to the Senate for minor tinkering, would count toward the 65 percent rule:
• Teacher salaries.
• Costs for supplies and instructional materials.
• Physical education, including athletic competitions.
• Music and art instruction, field trips and tuition paid to out-of-state school districts and private institutions for special needs students.
More interesting is what does not count toward the 65 percent mandate:
• Administration, principals, guidance counselors, social workers, librarians (Media center specialists) and school nurses.
• Transportation, maintenance costs and plant operations.
• Food service.
• Teacher training.
Here's the question that proponents of the bill have failed to accurately explain: Since salaries make up the majority of any school system's expenses - will the remaining 35 percent a system can spend for what the state deems as "non-classroom" expenses - be enough? The simple answer is "no."
Citizens should ask their legislators a few simple questions:
• Why include athletic teams and field trips and not the buses to get students to their off-campus activities?
• How can costs for materials count and not the janitorial services needed to keep the buildings clean or to pay the power company to keep the lights on?
Whether the state allows systems to count school lunches or guidance counselors or media specialists or principals really isn't the question legislators were dealing with. They understand that those expenses will still have to be met. The real question they were grappling with is, "How can we appear to promote education without paying for it?"
They also know that this effort, while couched as a way to "improve" education, is a power grab. The state mandate applies to all funds school systems receive, local, state and federal. So much for the local control espoused by Gov. Sonny Perdue in the past. He obviously doesn't have faith in that concept now. PAGE, GAE, the National PTA and the Georgia PTA, oppose the bill.
In a letter to teachers from his office dated Feb. 15, Perdue said: "As excited as I am about this proposal, I am concerned about some of the e-mails and letters we have received from educators about the proposal. One of the most frequent assertions we have heard is that this bill is intended to tell local systems how to spend their money, but this claim simply cannot be supported. In fact, if a school system is making student achievement gains and meeting benchmarks, they are exempt from the 65 percent requirement all together. The "Classrooms First for Georgia" simply encourages school systems to examine their budget and determine where efficiencies can be made so that most of the resources go into the classroom. Also, within the 65 percent and 35 percent categories, school systems are free to spend the dollars as they wish."I also want to reassure you that the great work of our support personnel such as media specialists, counselors, and nurses does not go unnoticed. These valued employees should not feel excluded by this proposal. Everyone certainly understands that no education is complete without instructional support personnel; however we also can all acknowledge that teachers and paraprofessionals are on the frontlines for educating our youngsters."
The double-speak included in that letter is almost silly.
Also silly were statements made by House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, when he angrily stepped into the well Thursday and said, "Don't ask them," meaning people in the gallery watching the debate and opposed to the measure. "Ask the mamas and daddys," he said.
Mamas and daddys may send an answer he doesn't expect once they realize what the state is really up to: Abandoning public education."

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