We can’t afford to play politics with our children’s education. While there are many success stories in our public schools, according to most measures our state’s current leadership has failed Georgia’s students. In fact, today there is simply less educating going on in Georgia. Georgia’s Pre-K programs are a month shorter, and the wait lists are longer. A huge number of school children are going to school for 150 days instead of 180. And for the first time in recent memory, 2012 will see a reduction in the number of students going to college and technical school. At a time when everyone agrees that we need more education, not less, there is no doubt that we are heading in the wrong direction.
The current leadership does not realize that education funding is a unique investment in our state’s economic health. Treating education investment like other government spending just doesn’t make sense – as a community we reap far more than we sow when we invest in education. And when we refuse to invest, the consequences are amplified.
Early Childhood Education
Investment in early learning does more than any other investment to close achievement gaps and help ensure that all children get the education they deserve. Because early learning benefits both students who are likely to succeed and those who may otherwise fall behind, studies have shown that investment in early childhood education produces returns of ten dollars for every dollar spent. This investment provides hope and education for all children, improves the quality of life for everyone, and helps attract new jobs and businesses looking for a long-term home.
Our state has long been a leader in early childhood education because of the investment of Lottery for Education dollars in universal Pre-K. However, changes to the lottery-funded programs in 2011 led to a $56 million cut in that investment, which means fewer Pre-K slots, longer wait lists, larger classroom sizes, and a shorter school year. These cuts make it harder to retain qualified Pre-K teachers and to meet the needs of our communities.
Jason will continue to fight to invest in early childhood education. Dollar for dollar, it is the smartest investment we can make.
As a state, we have cut state funding for public education by 25%. Georgia is furloughing teachers, cutting the amount of instructional time for struggling students, and enlarging class sizes. Although funding alone won’t fix Georgia’s education system, the lack of adequate resources hinders administrators and teachers from managing class sizes, offering high quality early childhood education, maintaining proper facilities, and employing advanced instructional techniques. We have to spend funds where they do the most good – in the classroom. Without these priorities, the school funding system does not provide for our children in the way that it should.
Jason’s wife, Kate, is a public school teacher, and Jason knows that we must also value and support our teachers. Virtually every study shows that nothing is more important to good educational outcomes than good teachers. This community knows firsthand that great teachers are needed to cultivate success in future generations. Educators who work hard in the classroom should be encouraged and supported by our legislature, and our teachers should be given all of the support and resources that they need to learn best practices, to improve, and to become the best teachers they can be. In addition, we must do all we can to train and recruit high-quality teachers and incentivize them to work in tough environments.
HOPE is vanishing. By 2016 – in just four years – HOPE will pay for less than half the cost of college. Under Governor Deal’s failed reforms, HOPE will continue to vanish over time. Every year there will be more and more high-achieving students who cannot afford to go to college. We are already seeing the results: for the first time in decades, 2012 saw drops in enrollment at two-year, four-year, and technical colleges across the state.
A HOPE plan that reduces the number of students who get degrees can only be called a failure – both for our students and for our economy.
We need real HOPE Scholarship reform so that we can educate people for success in our colleges and technical schools, and so that we can build a strong economy.
In both the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, Jason sponsored legislation that would preserve HOPE for future generations. Our state’s leadership did not even consider these proposals because of partisan political pressure from the Governor’s office, but Jason will continue the fight for Georgia’s students and families.