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Senator: Schools actually being protected

The people's business

POSTED: August 28, 2009 10:35 a.m.
August is quickly coming to a close and families across Georgia are transitioning back into the normal school-year routine of homework, carpools and school buses, report cards and box lunches.
However, this school year isn’t like any other. With the confusion over teacher furloughs and budget cuts, parents want assurance that their children are receiving a good education. Teachers want to know that they will have the tools to teach and a sustainable salary.
In Georgia, we care about our teacher and our students.
When it comes to schools and education, it is easy to overlook all that goes into Georgia’s education system behind the scenes. It is easy to say that improving education and making it a priority is important. It is another thing to actually do it.
We have done an excellent job in Georgia at making education a top priority, particularly in light of our current economic situation. The proof is in the numbers.
Education makes up the largest part of our state budget. Since 2008, education has increased from 39 percent to 42 percent of the entire state budget. This is because we have consciously made smaller percentage cuts in education than any other state agency. In 2009, education funding actually grew by 1.77 percent compared to a median state agency reduction of 5.86 percent.
Education is relatively protected in the fiscal year 2010 budget. The governor is proposing that all agencies take a 5 percent cut from their current FY10 budget and three furlough days. Education and Medicaid are capped at 3 percent cuts. Translating this cut to total reductions from base year FY08, most agencies will experience overall cuts of 10 percent while education remains at only 3.2 percent (including furlough days).
During this time, the Georgia Senate has cut its budget by almost 9 percent through legislator pay cuts and furloughs for their employees. Although teacher furloughs and furloughs for all state employees are painful, we are simply running out of places to turn.  
Teacher salaries make up 80 percent of the total education budget. The average teacher’s salary ranks 17th in the nation and is the highest in the Southeast. Georgia’s teachers on average make just over $8,000 more than their colleagues in the neighboring state of Alabama. The average teacher’s salary is $3,000 more than North Carolina, $4,000 more than South Carolina and Tennessee, nearly $5,000 more than Florida, and $7,000 more than Louisiana.
Teachers received a 2.5 percent pay increase, plus step increases for training and longevity, while other state employees did not in 2009. This year the legislature also passed a salary increase for math and science teachers for 2010.
How are other states addressing education cuts in their tight budgets? Utah enacted a shorter school year and legislators reduced funding for education by 13 percent. California let go of 27,000 teachers. Nevada cut K-12 teacher salaries by 4 percent and New Mexico cut all state employees (including teachers) by 1.5 percent.
Times are tough for everyone, but the numbers speak for themselves. Georgia legislators care about teachers. Georgia legislators care about education.  

Williams serves as president pro tempore of the Georgia Senate. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties.  He can be reached at (404) 656-0089 or by e-mail at tommie.williams@Senate.ga.gov.
 

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