People’s Bussiness: Making Education a Priority

August 23, 2009

The People’s Business

By President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams
August 21, 2009

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 teachers 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% to 42% 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% compared to a median state agency reduction of 5.86%. Education is relatively protected in the Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10) budget. The Governor is proposing that all agencies take a 5% cut from their current FY10 budget and three furlough days. Education and Medicaid are capped at 3% cuts. Translating this cut to total reductions from base year FY08, most agencies will experience overall cuts of 10% while education remains at only 3.2% (including furlough days). During this time, the Georgia Senate has cut its budget by almost 9% 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.

Teach salaries make up 80% 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 over $3000 more than North Carolina, over $4000 more than South Carolina and Tennessee, nearly $5000 more than Florida, and over $7000 more than Louisiana. Teachers received a 2.5% 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 (HB280).

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%. California let go of 27,000 teachers. Nevada cut K-12 teacher salaries by 4% and New Mexico cut all state employees (including teachers) by 1.5%.

Times are tough for everyone, but the numbers speak for themselves. Georgia cares about teachers. Georgia cares about education.