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Friday, January 10, 2014 - 12:43pm

GOP Backs Spending More On Schools

At an educational conference Friday, Republican state lawmakers said Georgia needs to spend more on education. And while they say they can’t restore $1 billion in education cuts that piled up during the Recession, they say the time for austerity is over. The comments came days before the legislative session begins Monday.

Rep. Brooks Coleman and Sen. Lindsey Tippins toured the state last year talking to teachers and parents about education.

And speaking at Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education conference, Coleman said what they saw and heard was surprising but gives them a clear mandate.

“We were shocked to find most school districts don’t have 180 days,” he told reporters. “I think the lowest we saw was 150, right Lindsey? One school district had 150 days. We were shocked to see the number of furlough days. They said, ‘That would be a teacher raise if you just restored furlough days’.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has called for giving teachers raises this year.

State School Superintendent John Barge, who spoke at the conference, agrees with Coleman on furlough days. And he’s using the issue as a wedge as he challenges Deal for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The high number of furlough days isn’t news to Georgia teachers, who are worried about how the state’s funding levels for education are affecting classroom instruction. So said Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, Jemellah Coes. Speaking at the conference, she said her fellow teachers’ concerns boil down to one thing:

“Always funding,” said Coes, a special education teacher in Bulloch County. “Funding affects our class size and the days out – furlough days and the days children are actually receiving instruction.”

And they’re nervous Georgia will stop participating in the Common Core curriculum standard used by more than 40 states. Coes said if Georgia abandons the Common Core, it will waste three years of training teachers have undergone to learn the standards.

Republican State Senator William Ligon of Brunswick has filed a bill that would bar Georgia from using the Common Core curriculum. Governors voluntarily adopted the standards partly to ease learning differences when children change schools. But some Republicans consider it federal overreach.

Coleman, Tippins and Barge all said school officials support the Common Core.

Coleman, a Duluth lawmaker who chairs the House Education committee, said 19 school districts are on the verge of bankruptcy. And Tippins, who represents Marietta, said he disagrees with some of his Republican colleagues who have suggested making the education cuts of the last decade permanent.

"The schools would starve if we did that," he said.