Deal or No Deal
Most Georgians are old enough to remember Sonny Perdue’s gift card program for teachers. Sonny heard that teachers were spending their own money on pencils, paper and classroom supplies, so, out of his great concern for the welfare of Georgia’s teachers in an election year, he authorized about $10 million dollars in $100 gift cards, one for every teacher in every classroom in Georgia. Rather than raise the amount of money available for teachers to spend on supplies and classroom materials, or, God forbid, give them a raise, good ole’ Sonny - the inventor of austerity cuts for education - saw that he might get a lot of votes for what amounted to a miniscule investment. Sure it was an election year gimmick, but he showed his concern for teachers by handing out those cards and by imposing the 65% rule that said libraries and media centers and counselors weren’t really valid educational expenditures. Go Fish - I mean, go figure.
Governor Deal liked the austerity cuts so much he built upon the idea that balancing the state budget on the backs of teachers and students in public schools was not only an acceptable method but fit really well with the narrative of failing public schools and bad teachers and poor test scores and that the real silver bullets to educational progress were things like privatization and charters and vouchers. The GADOE lists these austerity cuts (rounded):
$135 million in 2003 $283 million in 2004
$333 million in 2005 $333 million in 2006
$170 million in 2007 $143 million in 2008
$496 million in 2009 $1.4 billion in 2010
$1.1 billion in 2011 $1.1 billion in 2012
$1.1 billion in 2013 $1.1 billion in 2014.
$747 million for 2015 $466 million in 2016
What happened was predictable. Districts with a solid tax base made cuts and lost teachers but were still able to provide most important services. The ones that were really hurt were the poorer systems. They had few financial reserves to fall back on, and their tax base did not allow them to absorb the massive cuts from state funds. They cut teachers, services and shortened the school year by as much as 20 days. My colleagues in other states didn’t know what furlough days were. We explained it to them.
There were 1,615,066 students in Georgia public schools k-12 and 120,660 teachers to teach them in 2009. In 2013 the GADOE reported a little over 1,700,000 students and 112,177 public school teachers k-12. Anyway you count it, public education has lost over 8,500 teachers, gained a significant number of students and class sizes in public schools have increased dramatically. Add to that issue years with no raises, layoffs or RIF's in many systems, furloughs that actually take money out of teachers’ pockets, higher property taxes, higher insurance costs, the loss of planning time, the elimination of professional development funds, the lack of instructional funds, the elimination of band, chorus, orchestra, art and elective classes, the destruction of motivation and creativity through the institution of phony magic bullet reforms, a continuation of the “blame the teacher” mindset, an insistence on teaching to the test and for the test, the growing numbers of children in poverty, the proliferation of useless standardized testing at the state and local levels, the junk science of value added models of teacher evaluation, unrealistic expectations for students and teachers, the dearth of resources for students with special needs or remediation, the insanity of proclaiming “if everyone is not succeeding then everyone must be failing”, the inanity of student learning objectives for non-tested subjects, the implementation of Common Core standards by decree with no instructional support, books that are older than the kids they are issued to and it’s an absolute miracle that people still want to be teachers.
Let’s be honest. The larger systems will, because of their tax base, be able to give a one time 2 to 3% raise for all employees. Not just teachers, all employees. Teachers don’t work without janitors and lunchroom workers and secretaries and bus drivers and administrators anymore than legislators work without lobbyists or re-election in mind. The smaller systems, because of 13 years of successive cuts in state funds, will have to use the money to lower class sizes or reduce furlough days or make up for some of the other things - you know, staff development, classified employee insurance, books, pencils, paper, busses - they have had to cut more and more as state support dwindled more and more. If the Governor really wanted to give teachers a raise, it would be pretty simple. He could do what every other Governor has done when it came time to raise teacher pay; make adjustments to the state salary schedule. Since he chose not to do so, I suspect, just as with Governor Perdue’s gift cards, an ulterior motive. It’s not an election year for the Governor, and he is in his last term in office. He does, however, really want to amend the Constitution to give him the power to take over “failing” schools and appoint an unelected Superintendent that reports to him so together they can “save” poor kids and the educational process, but I’m pretty sure the timing is coincidental. So is the Governor giving teachers a raise or is it an incentive for teachers to look a little more favorably on the ideas and plans for the Opportunity School District? I’m not sure about that one, but if I cut my kid’s allowance for 13 months in a row while increasing his chores and then in the 14th month recognized the error of my ways and give him an extra $.25 for one month only I’m pretty sure I know what his reaction would be. Same as mine. I’m not buying it. Neither should you.