Education Takes Big Hit In Proposed Budget
"To call this an unusual or abnormal time is an understatement at best," said Sen. Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
State revenues from income and sales taxes have taken a cornavirus-fueld nosedive brought on by record unemployment and a shutdown of businesss that are still struggling to regain financial footing.
This week, Gov. Brian Kemp released a revised revenue estimate that asks for 10% in cuts by state agencies, down from 11% a few weeks ago and 14% in early May. More than $1 billion has been proposed to be cut from the education coffers.
Justin T. Johnson, a business education teacher at Chamblee Middle School, went to the Capitol on Wednesday with four other educators to talk with legislators about possible cuts.
The group stood outside and spoke with lawmakers who stopped to listen to their concerns.
"We showed up to be the voice of our students," Johnson said.
He is concerned that students have suffered academically since schools shutdown in mid-March because many of them lacked "access to high-speed internet, Chromebooks, laptops and technology." But, he also worries about his future.
"As a business education teacher, I could probably be one of the first on the chopping block," he said. "My friend, Wendy Morgan, is here and she's an art teacher."
In the past, school systems have cut art and music programs first, along with career and technical education, to preserve teaching focused on more traditional academic areas such as math and reading.
The Senate's proposed budget passed in that chamber last week and is now in a bipartisan conference committee.
Among the cuts, $15 million from pupil transportation and $25 million in funding cuts for school counselors.
"I'm very distressed about the school budget," Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver said. "In particular, school counselors in school budget cuts."
The proposal also moves millions of dollars out of the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). It eliminates the enormously popular Governor's Honor's Program (GHP). For 56 years, thousands of rising high school juniors and seniors apply for about 650 slots as GHP finalists. The students go on to attend a month-long academic, cultural, and social enrichment program at a college or university within the state.
"This a life-changing program," said Sen. Zahra Karinshak on the floor of the Senate on Thursday, where she held up a t-shirt from her time in GHP in 1984.
"I refuse to balance this budget on the backs of our children. It has been done way too many times," she told the chamber.
Lawmakers must vote on the budget compromise currently once it is presented out of the bipartisan conference commitee by Friday, the last day of the 2020 legislative session.