Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lawmakers Cut Education Another Year Despite Rising Unemployment and Student Growth

Recovery Act funds alone could not shore up Georgia's education budgets. Lawmakers cut between 13 and 15 percent from K-12, University System, and Georgia's award-winning Technical College System budgets for the upcoming fiscal year compared to fiscal year 2009, before these recessionary cuts began.

Thousands of Georgians currently employed by the state education systems will be joining the ranks of Georgia's record unemployment numbers. These include not only teachers, but nurses, cafeteria supervisors, bus drivers, and custodians.

"These cuts affect students, faculty, and staff, but also local economies across the state," said Sarah Beth Gehl, author of the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute's latest analysis. "K-12 systems are one of the top 10 largest employers in every county in Georgia, and the number one largest in 96 counties."

In addition, 27 counties have a public post-secondary system among their top 10 employers, according to Department of Labor data.

The State Board of Education just eliminated class size limits for the upcoming school year to allow districts to manage state cuts. Additional conseqences will be more adjunct faculty at colleges and universities, salary cuts and furloughs, and reduced supportive services such as tutoring, advising, and professional development, as well as more drastic measures for certain institutions.

A few K-12 school systems have already moved to a four-day school week or shortened the school calendar from 180 days to 160 days.

Recovery Act funds were intended to give state lawmakers time to address their revenue declines from the Great Recession. "Although Georgia's budget deficit has been in the top 10 worst in the nation, lawmakers chose to rely heavily on cuts," said Gehl. "Georgia lawmakers did not take significant steps to shore up the state's revenue system for education."

Recovery Act funds for education run out in FY 2011, causing bigger holes in school funding even as Georgia's population of school age children increases, more displaced workers seek job training, and more young people seek post-secondary education in order to enter the workforce.

The report specifies the four limited options Georgia has for future budgets, as well as policy questions, such as:

How will communities balance these cuts? Will some communities be able to offset the cuts with local resources, while communities with limited means cannot?

One option that exists to give states another year of time to solve their budget problems is for Congress to pass amendments to the war/disaster supplemental bill to add $23 billion in emergency education funding -- effectively an extension of the Recovery Act's state fiscal stabilization fund. These funds would go to state governments and would help prevent education layoffs in Georgia and across the nation.

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