My research as a member of the House Higher Education Committee and the House K-12 Education Appropriation Committee reveals that we are not alone when it comes to revenue shortfalls. Reductions impacted K-12 and higher education in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Since the new fiscal year began on July 1, further declines in expected revenue have forced Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia to reduce spending. In light of reduced revenues, several states have passed legislation giving school districts the budget and operating flexibility to help schools manage operations.
States are also taking other actions to help make ends meet. Delaware will reduce the salaries of state employees by 2.5 percent. Many states will increase tuition. Georgia has suspended its “Fixed For Four” guaranteed tuition program for new students. It has also implemented furloughs of teaching staff on non-instructional days. Florida colleges and universities may assess students a technology fee of up to 5 percent of base tuition.
In addition to suspending the guaranteed fixed tuition rate for up to four years, the Georgia Board of Regents has set additional special fees.
Students will pay an additional $100 at research universities, $75 at regional and state universities and $50 at two-year colleges.
While the cost per credit hour will not increase, full-time students now will pay for up to 15 credit hours per semester (students previously paid for a maximum of 12 credit hours).
The Tennessee Board of Regents set a similar policy—their students will pay for all credit hours taken. Florida is implementing a differentiated tuition policy. Four-year colleges and universities may increase their tuition up to 15 percent. Two-year colleges may vary tuition from 10 to 15 percent. This is in addition to the technology fee mentioned above.
In light of the economic situation, some states are adjusting awards for student financial aid programs. In Florida, the merit-based “Bright Futures” scholarships will not cover tuition increases for the current year. West Virginia capped the maximum award for its “Promise” scholarship program.
In order to improve the quality of education, several states are addressing the training needs of school boards, school leaders and teachers. West Virginia legislation has established a training standards review committee to approve training for county school board members and to determine whether members have satisfied annual training requirements. Alabama school boards will develop policies for orientation and ongoing training of members. Georgia now bars a person from serving on a school board or being employed as a superintendent if the individual has a family member serving on the board or employed by the central office.
A few states have passed bills addressing teacher preparation. Alabama now requires each applicant to postsecondary teacher preparation programs to complete a criminal background check. Texas legislation allows the State Board for Educator Certification to shut down teacher preparation programs that do not meet certain performance standards. The legislation also requires that resumes for all state colleges and universities be provided to the public in an online, user-friendly format.
On the bright side, opportunities for young children are improving. Both Texas and Georgia have increased funding to allow prekindergarten programs to expand. Mississippi is providing local school boards with the funding flexibility to operate voluntary education programs for children under 5 years old.
In my Oct. 7 column, I reported that for the first two months of FY 2010 (July and August) we are already $309 million below FY 2009 revenues. This put us on track for a budget shortfall of $1.8 billion. The release of September’s revenue figures reveal that forecast was too low.
The latest revenue report shows that September’s revenue was $260 million less than September 2008. This brings the shortfall for the first quarter FY 2010 to $580 million less than the first quarter of FY 2009. Should this situation continue, our budget shortage for FY 2010 will be over $2 billion.
These are the hard facts I and other legislators face every day in preparation for the upcoming Legislative Session beginning in January.
How do we do everything that needs to be done to meet the educational needs of our children when the necessary revenue doesn’t seem to be there? New ideas will be introduced into legislative discussions; some of which may work their way into laws.
Your help in answering these important questions is needed more than ever.
Rep Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; (706) 864-6589; e-mail email@example.com.