It should come as no surprise to anyone that every department in state government has compelling reasons for not cutting “their” budget during these challenging economic times.
I am a member of the K-12 Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. We oversee the largest portion of the state budget, some 50 percent of which is spent on education.
On Monday, we heard three hours of testimony from those interested in pre-K through 12th grade, each listing the reasons why their portions of the FY 2009 Amended Budget and the FY 2010 Budget should not be cut. It makes Solomon’s problems look like child’s play.
On Friday, Gov. Perdue announced that revenue collections for January 2009 were down 14.3 percent from January 2008. That is a decrease of $262 million. I believe that if things don’t turn around in a hurry, we will be looking at a $3 billion deficit. It would not surprise me to see the Governor’s revenue estimate reduced for the remainder of this budget year and FY 2010.
There simply is not enough money to give every state department everything they want. No department ever says, “we have enough,” or “we will make do with what we have.” What follows are some of the things we are struggling with on the education budget.
Sen. Eric Johnson is considering a plan which would allow parents to use a scholarship (vouchers) to send their child to a public or private school of their choice. This scholarship would be for the State’s portion of the educational cost only, not the local school system’s portion. It would not include any local tax money.
Let me give you an example of Senator Johnson’s voucher program. Assume there are 3,000 students in Lumpkin County and ten percent or 300 students decided to go elsewhere, either to North Hall or a private school.
The parents would be responsible for their transportation and any fees charged by the schools that exceeded the scholarship. Additionally, the parents would continue to pay property taxes in Lumpkin County, which would go to support the remaining 2,700 students.
The sending schools would have more money for fewer students. The receiving schools would get vouchers plus any additional charges for enrolling out-of-county students.
Georgia Public Policy Foundation says, “These trying times could provide parents of the state’s K-12 students with the opportunity to finally join the parents of college students, pre-k and special needs students able to use their tax money to choose a school that best serves their children while ensuring more funds are available for education.”
The same article stated, “Education is fundamentally about children — children with unique needs, interests and personalities. It’s not about good schools or bad schools. It’s about finding the right setting, the right programs, the right expectations, the right discipline or the right teacher to unlock the potential in every child. A top-down policy cannot anticipate the needs of every child. The facts are clear. The financial impact of providing parents with choice is to leave more money per child in public schools. The potential impact on each child’s future is priceless.”
In our Higher Education Committee hearing, we learned that sixty-five percent of students who enter college with the HOPE (Help Outstanding Pupils Educationally) Scholarship lose it the first year. HOPE expenditures will exceed revenues in 2011. We need to review the program now to keep it operational and relevant in 2011?
Last week the House passed on to the Senate HB 157, which changed the “trigger mechanism” used to fund textbooks. When expenditures rise to the point where the HOPE trust fund is decreased by 8 percent, the textbook reimbursement will drop 25 percent. If the trust fund drops 25 percent, textbook reimbursement will go to zero.
The budget challenges are of biblical proportion this year. An Amos or even a Solomon can’t handle them alone. Your advice will be welcomed.
The Higher Education Committee also passed out HR 165, which encourages the University System to promote science and technology. For successful economic growth in Georgia, expanding and developing education for the support of science, technology, engineering, and math will more effectively promote innovation in new technology driven businesses within the state.
These are required to establish Georgia as the #1 destination for entrepreneurship. As a member of the House Higher Education Committee; the House Energy, Utilities, & Telecommunications Committee; and as Chairman of the House Science & Technology Committee, I enthusiastically support these programs.
The House voted unanimously on Friday to split the 40-day legislative session into two parts, which we hope will give us enough flexibility to deal with whatever economic stimulus package comes from Washington.
The House voted to complete 35 of the 40-day Session on March 25 and then return in late June to finish up the budget. It was immediately sent to the Senate.
Your suggestions on solving our budget challenges are encouraged. You can meet with me during one of my Saturday morning breakfasts with constituents.
My Feb. 14 breakfast will be at 8 a.m. at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. My Feb. 21 breakfast will be at 8:30 a.m. at Ryan’s Steakhouse at SR 53 and 400 in Dawson County. I’ll let you know the location and dates of other Saturday morning breakfasts as the Session progresses.
Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334, (404) 657-8534 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.