Sunday, December 21, 2008

GAE Members to Ask Obama for Piece of Stimulus Package for Georgia's Public Schools

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE), realizing the urgency of the ongoing economic climate and its impact upon Georgia's families and public education system, has developed a plan to help Georgia obtain a piece of the economic stimulus package being proposed by the incoming Obama Administration. Its members will be asked to lobby their U.S Senators and Representatives on behalf of Georgia's families and public schools.

"Our students, our educators, and their respective families, like all Georgia citizens and their families, are living with the realities of today's economic difficulties," said GAE President Jeff Hubbard. "These difficulties, which are forecast to only worsen, will continue to have an impact upon our state's ability to fulfill its budgetary obligations, which will impact public education both directly and indirectly. Directly in the guise of k-12 through higher education line items that are being, and most likely will continue to be, reduced or possibly eliminated, and indirectly in other line items that affect Georgia's families abilities to obtain the basics they need, such as food stamps, nutrition assistance, and Medicaid, which can impact how well their children are prepared for school each day." Hubbard says that schools are seeing increasing numbers of children who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced school meals or need donated school supplies because their families can no longer afford them.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 41 states, including Georgia, faced or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for this year and/or next year. Over half the states had already cut spending, used reserves, or raised revenues in order to adopt a balanced budget for the current fiscal year. At least 16 states are cutting or proposing to cut K-12 and early education; several of them are also reducing access to child care and early education, and at least 17 states have implemented or proposed cuts to public colleges and universities. Hubbard said, "In all six of Gov. Purdue's budgets, the actual amount of money allocated for per pupil expenditures has continued to shrink leading to massive cuts in services and programs which our students desperately need to be competitive in this new global economy."

To address these urgent needs, GAE members are being asked to lobby their U.S. Congressional representatives on the following points:

* Initiatives to help boost pre-k education, including a limited-time program of federal matching funds designed to help states maintain pre-k services, while creating incentives for them to maintain existing investment levels. We also suggest funding programs to ensure that job training and assistance programs provide displaced workers who want to become early educators, particularly those who already have college degrees, access to the education they need to teach PK-3 students.
* Job creation through investments in infrastructure, including school construction. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has pointed to more than $100 billion in needed repairs to U.S. public schools ¨C well-defined projects that can be quickly implemented. EPI estimates that $20 billion in such infrastructure repairs would create 280,000 jobs.
* An increase in the federal share of the costs of educating students with disabilities. The federal funding shortfall for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is straining state and school budgets and diverting resources from other critical programs. According to the National Governors Association, as a result of the subprime meltdown, the steady decline in housing values, and the rising costs of health care, state and local education budgets are under siege to cover basic operation costs, such as teacher salaries, transportation, and educational programming. Proposals to create a new glide path to attain the 40 percent federal commitment for special education cost about $19 billion over two years. This funding would go a long way to protecting elementary and secondary education from planned cuts over the next two years.
* Funding to close the Pell Grant shortfall. The credit crisis has made it more difficult for families to qualify for student loans and access higher education. At the same time, a large and growing number of people are going back to school as a way to increase their skills and earning potential. More than 786,000 applicants used the Pell Grant program than at the same point last year. As a result, the estimated Pell Grant shortfall is $3.5 billion in FY09, even after Congress provided $2.5 billion in the Continuing Resolution. At the current rate of increase, there will be 1.2 million more Pell Grant students. Congress could fund the Pell Grant shortfall and ensure adequate federal resources are available for all eligible students.
* Increases in food stamp benefits and other nutrition assistance for families struggling to survive in the face of rapidly rising food prices. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, food stamp caseloads have increased dramatically in recent months, rising by 2.6 million people or 9.6 percent between August 2007 and August 2008, the latest month for which data are available. In 25 states, at least one in every five children is receiving food stamps.
* An extension of unemployment assistance to those who have exhausted their benefits.
* A temporary increase in the federal Medicaid match (FMAP). According to the National Governors Association, 17 states have experienced FMAP declines over their federal FY 2008 FMAPs. Twelve of these states had also experienced FMAP declines in the previous fiscal year. Fourteen states are projected to have FMAP decreases in federal FY 2010. A temporary FMAP increase is a proven, effective way to provide relief to states and protect the health care of millions of Americans. In fact, Congress used this same approach to help states during the 2001-02 recession, when states facing high unemployment and weak tax revenues, combined with unexpected Medicaid growth, were forced to seek serious cutbacks in Medicaid costs.

"We invite all concerned Georgians to join us and contact their U.S. Congressional Delegation and ask that Georgia be included in any recovery package being developed," said Hubbard. "We also would implore our Georgia lawmakers to fairly and equitably distribute any additional funding that is successfully obtained, whether it is through federal stimulus or increased state tax revenue."

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