A Sneak Peek at Possible Education Issues Under the Gold Dome
Oconee County Superintendent John Jackson discusses locally-relevant school issues facing the 2011 Georgia General Assembly.
Georgians are anxiously awaiting the start of the 2011 General Assembly, and educators are among those watching closely to see what actions are taken to address pressing issues in our state related to K-12 public education.
Last month, superintendents and school board members from the thirteen school systems comprising the Northeast Georgia Regional Service Agency (RESA) met with state legislators from the area at the RESA Annual Legislative Breakfast to discuss several topics relating to possible legislation.
Leading the discussion were Representative Brooks Coleman, chairman of the House Education Committee, and Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. Oconee County was represented at this meeting by Representative-elect Hank Huckaby. Senator Bill Cowsert also attended briefly but had to leave due to another engagement.
There was lively interaction among participants mainly focusing on two items: budget and accountability.
We have all heard the forecast given by Governor-elect Nathan Deal of additional cuts to education funding, due in large part to the end of federal stimulus dollars that have plugged the state’s budget hole for the last three fiscal years. Those dollars are set to go away with little hope of replacement by state funds.
Representative Coleman mentioned the idea of allowing communities to determine if they are willing to impose upon themselves a sales tax for operations in exchange for a certain reduction in property taxes, the major source of local funding for most school systems.
There are currently a handful of small school systems that, through local legislation, are able to use sales taxes for the daily operation of their schools. Many systems, including Oconee County Schools, have been collecting a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) for the purpose of capital improvements. However, those funds cannot be used for operational expenses. A sales tax for operations would give school systems an additional revenue source to meet obligations.
As state funds have been decreasing, legislators and other state officials have given school systems additional flexibility in how those monies are utilized. For example, class size regulations have been eased to allow choices in classroom staffing. With dollars declining even further, we are likely to see the process for becoming a charter school or system simplified.
In 2009, the General Assembly passed legislation mandating that school systems choose from three flexibility options by July 2013. Those options include: becoming a charter system, selecting the Investing in Educational Excellence (IE2) option or maintaining the status quo. Of course, with this increased freedom comes accountability for results – including federal benchmarks for state testing, graduation rates and other indicators.
The 2011 General Assembly may prove to be one of the most challenging for lawmakers as they seek viable solutions to Georgia’s fiscal problems. Readers are encouraged to stay informed about the actions being taken by their legislators and make their voices heard on issues regarding the public schools.
In Oconee County, we have worked hard to improve the results coming from our schools even in these austere times, but we must be vigilant in ensuring that our public schools are properly funded and supported at the state level.