The possible drastic cut in funding would put nearly 400 teacher and aide jobs at risk and Head Start would be eliminated for 1,700 Georgia children, reducing access to critical early education.
According to documentation on the sequester issued by the White House, close to 54,000 fewer students would be served and approximately 80 fewer schools would receive funding.
State Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, said the state legislature is in the process of implementing changes, corrections and updates to Georgia’s education budget that will take into account any potential changes coming from the federal government.
“That discussion is ongoing and probably won’t be really complete even after Friday, but certainly won’t be complete until Friday,” Coomer said Wednesday. “There won’t be a deal worked out, so we’re trying to manage our house with that particular eventuality in view.”
He said it’s difficult to predict how the state’s education funding could be affected at this point in the game.
“We’re just kind of adjusting to what looks like a moving target at this point,” Coomer said, adding, “We’re going to do the best we can to anticipate whatever difficulties are coming and adjust to those accordingly.”
However, there are some bills that will go to the floor in the House today that would allow for extra flexibility in elementary and secondary education levels, as well as more accountability from educators, said Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome.
The bills that pertain to education that will be discussed today are House Bills 244, 283, 327 and 293.
A bigger piece of the pie
Dempsey touched on the drastic changes in education funding Georgia has experienced dating back to 1992 when education was a mere 36.74 percent of the total state budget.
“Around 2000, it kind of gradually picked up and fluctuated a little bit, but it was 2006 when the largest change came,” she explained. “It was relevant to the percentage of money that was being taken in, which is what we can only do in Georgia with a balanced budget.”
She said that percentage continued to climb from the 41.24-percent hit in 2006 until it peaked in 2010 with 44.60 percent of state revenue allotted for education. This year it’s back down to 43.69 percent.
“While the dollars are less because less is coming in, the percentage of our state budget has increased,” she said.
Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Rome, said the economic struggles the nation has gone through for nearly a decade are a damper to legislators working diligently at allocating the proper amount of funds to schools.
“I think we’re very aware to call for the necessity to do all that we can for education across the board, particularly K-12,” Lumsden said. “This is seven years into an economy that none of us would have imagined.”
He said most government entities across the U.S. were prepared for a downturn that would only last two, maybe three years. The recession, he said, made situations such at the Reduction in Force executed by Floyd County Schools necessary.
“We’re now in our seventh year of this economy, and with a large portion of the budget being in personnel — and considering reductions are being made in other areas year-to-year — other areas are exhausted and personnel cuts need to be on the table,” he said.
But Lumsden said there were some good things to report on the state level when it comes to education funding, where good news seems a rarity these days.
“The governor’s budget does not call for any additional cuts to K-12 education this year. In fact there’s been some money that’s been added back to the budget,” he noted.
Little hope to halt RIF
Lumsden said that while the Floyd County RIF was upsetting, he understood why it was necessary.
“I regret the Reduction In Force has occurred, however, it’s not surprising to me,” he said. “I believe the Floyd County school system has done a good job in minimizing the impact on the school system over the past several years given the economy and the lingering recession. While I deeply regret the cuts, I fully understand the dynamics of the budget.”
Dempsey too expressed her sympathies to those affected by the Floyd County RIF.
“I am so sad for those in our community that are losing jobs or even changing jobs,” she said. “I know teachers get very attached to their students and where they teach.”