To Georgia's public school teachers:
I write to applaud you for having made it through another year in Georgia’s public schools. Good for you. Frankly, I wonder sometimes why you do what you do and then I remember that you are changing young lives for the better. Not many of us can make that claim.
Your rewards for your efforts are unpaid furlough days, larger class sizes, no pay increases (but increased expenses) and a second-guessing public that seems to feel you should be able to stop all of society’s ills at the classroom door. And then there are the politicians who promote “school choice.” That “choice” doesn’t seem to include making public schools better but it does include making all the other choices more attractive.
I’m not sure what you have done to deserve such treatment. Much of it, I believe, comes from the fact the politicians don’t like the various associations that lobby for public education. They derisively call them “educrats.” This becomes an elephant fight and you tend to get trampled in the process and punished for something you haven’t done.
In addition to severely cutting state funding for public education, sometimes our intrepid public servants wander into la-la land. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Alpharetta, claims you are the most highly-compensated teachers in the nation. She also claims that the moon is made of green cheese but that is a story for another day.
I assume Jones was trying to make her legislative colleagues feel better about themselves for taking such good financial care of you and to help her pass the charter school amendment. Maybe you could share your pay stubs with her.
You know my feelings about the charter school amendment. I am still waiting for someone to tell me why we should vote for it this fall. Proponents say the state needs this amendment to authorize state charter schools. What they don’t tell you is the State Board of Education has approved 13 charter schools in a year. So where is the need?
This isn’t about charter schools. It is about letting for-profit charter school management companies get their foot in the door whether your local school system likes it or not. The irony shouldn’t be lost on you that Gov. Nathan Deal signed the charter school amendment bill in Cherokee County, home of Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, not exactly the best friend of public education in the state.
You should know also that the governor, Rogers and Jones all received campaign contributions from Florida-based Charter Schools USA, the group that had their petition to operate a facility in Cherokee County turned down by the local school board.
I doubt Deal loses sleep over my opinions but if his image polishers are reading this, I consider signing the bill in Cherokee County a cheap shot at the Cherokee school system, one of the best in the state. Plus, the event exhibited regal indifference to our growing suspicions as voters that campaign contributions do indeed influence political decisions.
I have serious skin in this game. Four members of my family are public school teachers. My son and my son-in-law have been in the classroom long enough to roll with the punches. Nothing much surprises them anymore.
But, now I have two grandchildren who have completed their first year of teaching. Nick Wansley is a chemistry teacher and coach at South Forsyth Hill School and his wife, Mandy, teaches at Riverwatch Middle School, also in Forsyth County.
They are the future of public education in Georgia, and I am extremely proud of the decision they made to be teachers. Obviously, they both could make more money and have fewer headaches in another profession, but they believe this to be a calling — and it is. The school teacher was one of our community’s most respected professionals when I was growing up. That was before government at all levels got involved and made a mess of things.
Now our legislative leaders cozy up to Washington think tanks and for-profit charter school management groups and preach “school choice.” It would be nice if they would deign to help you fix the problems in public education, not run away from them.
I have no confidence the current crop in power will do that but they need to know — and you need to know — that I appreciate all you do and I’m not going away. I pray you don’t, either.
We’ve just begun to fight.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and atgainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.