January 28, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
Last week, members of the legislature’s appropriations
committees held budget hearings with those that head state agencies, going over
requests for new money and justifications for existing expenses. It’s the
annual signal that the pageantry portion of opening a session of the General
Assembly has ended and the hard work has begun.
The budget is constitutionally the only item that must be completed
Georgia’s economy remains strong, and revenues flowing to
state coffers continue to grow. As has
been custom for the past several years, the bulk of revenue growth above the
increased cost of existing programs has been earmarked for education.
Governor Kemp has requested a “sizeable down payment” on his
campaign pledge of a $5,000 across the board pay raise for Georgia’s
teachers. His budget includes $3,000 per
teacher this year. State employees would
also receive a 2% pay raise under his proposal.
Additional money for education is proposed for school
safety. $69 Million, which breaks down
to $30,000 for every school, is earmarked for local school boards to determine one-time
expenses to improve the security of each school campus.
The mental health of students is also addressed. $8.4
Million is requested from the Governor for additional mental health counselors
to engage struggling students as well as mitigate aggressive behavior.
Under this budget plan, Georgia’s Quality Basic Education
formula would be fully funded and Georgia’s teachers would get a substantial
pay raise. Additional money will be
added to Georgia’s antiquated Teacher’s Retirement System by virtue of the
increased teacher pay scale, as the money needed to pay out retirement benefits
is based on teacher earnings.
This generates a few points that need to be underscored on
where Georgia is with respect to education funding today and going forward.
With QBE funded and teachers’ pay being ramped up, the stale
talking point that Georgia underfunds education should be dead. It won’t be however, as those that have used
this talking point never quantify how much money education “needs”. The answer, no matter how much is spent, is
always quite simply “more”.
While investment in education is increasing, accountability standards
are being relaxed or eliminated. Georgia
has ramped up teacher pay before, to the point of paying the most in the
southeast and the highest in the nation when adjusted for cost of living. Georgia only moved out of the education
basement after rigorous performance standards were implemented. We now run the risk of paying more but
The pay raise for teachers is said to keep teachers from
leaving the profession early. The
benefits of increased money into the system falls disproportionately to those
on the other end of the career timeline when the expense to the retirement
system is factored in. Legislators need
to review the retirement system that benefits only those educators that remain
in the profession for ten years before completing the entire pay raise request. A system that is more equitable for early career
teachers may also be more cost-effective for taxpayers.
Most importantly, an education plan that is focused on
dollars is too often focused on adults and their careers (and their votes) rather
than students and their needs. With a
new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and both House and Senate Education Chairmen,
it will be interesting to see if these policies translate into new
opportunities for students and their families.
Georgia for more than a decade has recognized in word and
practice that one size does not fit all with education opportunities. Georgia’s education bureaucracy is fully
funded. Teacher pay is increasing. As such, the first criticism to expanding
school choice has been fully mitigated.
Yes, the dollars spent on education matter. What matters more, however, is that each
individual student is given their best opportunity to succeed, rather than to
assimilate into a system they are assigned because of the house their parents