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Education system has come a long way

POSTED: November 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Despite the doom and gloom being expressed about the election and the economy, Georgia’s education system continues to improve. 

  

Recently, the K-12 Subcommittee on Appropriations met with members of the Department of Education to discuss budget shortfalls and their impact in the classrooms. I want you to know that every member of that subcommittee is a staunch advocate and partner in creating a brighter future for Georgia’s children.  We are relentless throughout the budgeting and legislative process in assuring our schools and children are at the front of the budget line.     

  

Georgia’s high school graduation rate has increased by 10 percent in five years.  That’s right, no matter how you calculate it, the absolute rate has increased 10 percent since Sonny Perdue became governor and Kathy Cox became Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools.  The graduation rate now exceeds 72 percent.

  

Cox implemented a more rigorous curriculum in every grade. Independent education experts conclude Georgia’s curriculum is the strongest in the southeast.

  

She established benchmarks for 3rd, 5th and 8th grades requiring proficiency in reading and math. 

  

Georgia has a higher percentage of high school students taking an Advanced Placement exam than the national average.  (Note: Georgia pays for one AP exam for each high school student per year and multiple exams for those students on free or reduced lunch.)

  

Since 2002, high school student participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses grew from 20 to 29 percent. At the same time, the percent of students scoring at mastery (3, 4 or 5) on AP exams increased from 11 to 15 percent. 

  

This growth ranks Georgia 15th in the nation for percentage of students completing AP courses.

  

For the first time ever, Georgia is on par with the nation in 4th grade reading results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test (NAEP tests 4th and 8th grade reading and math).  We’ve never been on par in any area on that test.

  

Since 2003, Georgia’s reading and math scores on the SAT have increased by five points, while the average across the country has dropped by nine.

  

Georgia still ranks in the bottom 10 states in average SAT scores, but that is partly because we rank in the top 10 states in percentage of students taking the exam. Georgia has historically encouraged broad SAT participation as opposed to an elite few.

  

African Americans still score 200 points lower on average on the SAT nationally; Georgia has a high African American population taking the SAT. By raising academic standards for all students, minority test scores are also rising, and the scores of Georgia African Americans now exceed the national average.      

  

With almost half of our $20 billion budget spent on K-12, we can’t afford to let some children “fall through the cracks.” 

  

In an attempt to reduce the drop-out rate, we have funded graduation coaches in middle and high schools to identify students at risk and get them back on track. We require school systems to spend 65 percent of all education funding in the classroom where learning occurs. 

  

After adjusting for inflation, per student state spending in Georgia is the highest it has ever been. 

  

Hard work by qualified teachers has certainly helped to improve the education process. The legislature has increased teacher salaries and benefits to attract the very best because we know teachers make the greatest difference in learning, after families. 

  

Georgia teachers earn the highest average salaries of 14 southeastern states. 

  

When cost of living is taken into account, Georgia teachers earn the highest salaries nationally. We haven’t always allocated state dollars in the manner some special interest groups wanted us to; however, the results show that putting dollars closest to the classroom makes a difference in academic achievement.

  

Georgia’s Teacher Retirement System is one of the best funded in the nation.

  

We are still fully funded in spite of the recent drop in the stock market, and I will add my voice to yours in trying to stop our cost of living allowance (COLA) being changed to an option rather than mandatory. I will also fight any effort to combine TRS with another retirement system.

  

As most everyone knows, the economy is in the pits and state revenues are far behind what is needed to accomplish the everyday expectations of the citizens.

  

I ask that you keep us in your prayers during the coming weeks as we prepare for the 2009 Session of the General Assembly. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee (K-12 Subcommittee), my job is to get every dollar possible back into the school systems in Lumpkin, Dawson and Forsyth counties.

  

The new Legislative Session starts in a little over two months. Now is the time for you to be contacting me for your legislative needs. 

  

Amos Amerson can be contacted at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533, (706) 864-6589, e-mail hamerson@alltel.net.

 

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