It’s time for politicians to go back to school.
As candidates discuss Georgia’s education system this election season, they’ll need the facts to back up their policy ideas.
To give elected officials an idea of where Georgia education stands and how the budget situation will affect schools, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education and Georgia School Boards Association created a traveling seminar to teach the candidates.
In Athens on Monday, GPEE President Steve Dolinger emphasized ties between education and economic development.
"There’s a lot of work we still need to do in Georgia, but there is progress," Dolinger said, presenting statistics about the state’s low SAT rankings, reading levels, basic math skills and graduation rates. "I need you to use two sets of ears today — for your campaign and for you to use back in your community today."
Dolinger focused on the need for preschool education, higher graduation rates and a seamless transition to technical schools or colleges. A lacking education process becomes cyclical as dropout students become uninformed voters and poor parents, and a focus on schools is essential to address issues in the community, he said.
"This fall, students are really going to feel the impact of the budget crisis," said Susan Walker, GPEE director of policy and research, as she discussed education benchmarks in the past decade with the No Child Left Behind Act, Adequate Yearly Progress and Georgia Performance Standards. "It’s taken awhile to hit the public sector, and now it’s going to hit where it really hurts, and that’s with the students."
As state funding for education falls, students may have to pay for PSAT and Advanced Placement tests, and schools may have to drop AP courses as teachers lose jobs, she said.
"Maybe we should have had more foresight with our decisions three years ago as the crisis hit," Walker told officials. She discussed the Common Core Standards, a state-led initiative to establish national classroom standards by this fall, and Georgia’s Race to the Top grant application, which could bring in money to bolster education changes across the state.
Although federal stimulus money has eased the blow during the last two years, the next few fiscal years will hurt even more without it, said Ronnie Hopkins, a board member for the Jefferson City Schools Board of Education.
"Legislators talk about 3 percent or 4 percent cuts, but in total we’re seeing 15 percent cuts from the state alone, and that’s unheard of," Hopkins said. "We’re being told to do the same job, not lower standards, but do it with less money or make up for it with local taxes. School boards aren’t going to do that, but if they did, it would be the largest tax increase in Georgia history."
Lawmakers are cutting control on how taxes are assessed anyway, he said.
"We’re being squeezed, and it’s really a detriment to the education of our children," Hopkins said. "How can you explain to a student that they have less opportunity and quality, that their worth is less than those who came before them five years ago?"