I was extremely disheartened to hear about the many educators and support staff who will lose their jobs with the Floyd County School System at the end of the school year because of diminishing resources. Unfortunately, this problem is not unique to Floyd County. For years now the funding we send to our public schools has been less than what the schools earn in the State funding formula. This has resulted in school systems having to make difficult decisions, such as increasing class sizes, cutting days of instruction from the school calendar, and reducing personnel.
I appreciate that the governor and legislature have not directed any additional cuts to the funding formula this year. Their actions have helped some of our schools survive another day. Unfortunately, though, years of tough economic times and fewer resources for our schools are taking full effect and this is what we are seeing first-hand in Floyd County.
As you probably know, Georgia law requires the legislature to approve a balanced budget, which I believe is very wise. In these difficult economic times I do not envy the task they have before them. Just as we can’t saddle the next generation with our debt, however, we also can’t take away the opportunity for our kids to receive an education that prepares them to be college and career ready. The austerity cuts of the past ten years have left many local districts struggling financially. It is my hope that as our economy continues to improve we will see some of the austerity cuts restored.
We are fortunate to have some of the best teachers and school leaders in the nation. They have a tremendously difficult job, but despite the challenges, our schools continue to see student achievement on the rise. In fact, Georgia was the only state in the nation to see gains in student achievement on each of the most recent national assessments that is administered consistently across the states. My fear, however, is that as schools continue to be allotted less money with which to operate, we will begin to see a diminishing return. It will become more and more difficult to get the improved results we’ve seen for years.
I am hopeful that as revenues continue to increase we will see some money restored to our school districts. Until then, we have to work together to find solutions that have the least impact on the classroom, because our students need dynamic, engaged and relevant classroom instruction from a compassionate, effective teacher more than anything else.
John Barge, a parent of a Floyd County Schools student and public school educator, is Georgia’s State School Superintendent.