The sad painful truth: Sonny Perdue is not a Georgia ‘education governor’
Georgia has been blessed with several “education governors.” According to James Cook’s “The Governors of Georgia, 1754 – 1995,” Gov. Ellis Arnall, in the 1940s, tried to remove politics from education reform by changing the Board of Regents and the State Board of Education from statutory to constitutional bodies and Gov. Melvin Thompson expanded public education to 12 grades.
Gov. Herman Talmadge almost tripled education funding, with teacher salaries doubling in the process, and he spent $168 million for school construction. In the 1950s, Gov. Marvin Griffin hired 3,000 new teachers and built 8,000 new classrooms, and Gov. Ernest Vandiver Jr. saved the public education system during the era of interposition and nullification.
Gov. Carl Sanders, in the 1960s, added 10,000 teachers and built more schools and classrooms than any previous governor. In the 1970s, Gov. George Busbee created a statewide kindergarten program and Gov. Joe Frank Harris led the fight to overhaul education with the Quality Basic Education Act. In the 1990s Gov. Zell Miller pushed the state’s lottery, the source of HOPE funds for higher education, pre-K and technology improvements in K-12 education, and Gov. Roy Barnes passed the A+ Education Act and poured money into teacher raises in each year of his term.
In 2002 Sonny Perdue was elected governor with the help of teachers who chafed at Barnes’ efforts to improve public education. How do teachers like Sonny now? Instead of raises, teachers receive a $100 gift card. When they do receive raises, they also get hit with increases in health-care costs. Instead of funding increases — to handle the additional students in one of the nation’s fastest growing states — more than $2.5 billion has been sucked out of the K-12 education pipeline. Higher Ed, on its way to national prominence, isn’t feeling good either. Frankly, the state of education in Georgia looks grim. Most school systems have had to face two realities: Raise local taxes or cut programs, many of which can’t be touched because of state mandates.
The atmosphere between state government and public education is increasingly hostile because teachers and administrators can’t take what the state says to the bank.
Georgia’s 180 school systems are preparing to lay off or furlough teachers in an era when teacher shortages are rampant, and most systems are dealing with shortfalls, from transportation to textbooks, due to cuts recommended by the governor, who feels no remorse when it comes to reneging on promises. While proposing to pay extra for teachers and administrators whose children show improvement, he’s cutting the extra pay promised for nationally certified teachers.
While the economy is being blamed for the latest cuts, throughout Gov. Perdue’s tenure, in good times and bad, education has been treated like a red-haired step-child. The brunt of balancing the state’s budget has been thrown on the child’s back. The reason the state has a surplus, such as it is, was made possible only by cutting education, and now Perdue plans to hit it again. He plans to suck $99 million from K-12 education and $20 million from the university system. Thank goodness for the stimulus package or the cuts would have been deeper.
Education in Georgia lags behind most other states, and one of the reasons is the lack of advocacy from the governor’s office and from the state’s superintendent of schools, who hasn’t said a mumbling word as the cuts roll down from on high. While the governor talks a good education game, the proof is in the priorities of his budgets. He is not an education governor. That fact is clear.