I have never seen a place — yes, Georgia — where the k-12 public education system takes more turns for the good and then just as broadly takes giant steps backwards.
On the recent good side, President Obama is touting a state program designed to give more of Georgia’s poorest 3- and 4-year-olds entree into pre-kindergarten education. This in a state that once led the nation in pre-K innovation but went backwards for a while because lottery revenues — which funded the initial program — fell flat.
Too many Georgia education programs live and die on lottery revenue — which, in case you have merely forgotten, is out-and-out, certified, card-carrying, died-in-the-wool gambling.
Gov. Deal is being optimistic with his plan to expand a technical college program because the lottery is faring better these days — up 10 percent over January of 2012. He also wants regular university students who qualify for HOPE to get more funding due to the improved lottery picture.
That’s the latest good news. Now, the bad. Fellow Clay Countians, listen up. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Feb. 10 that the so-called “sparsity” grant fund that for years has helped to finance school operations in poor, rural districts is about to dry up.
I would have called it the “paucity” fund because it involves only $2.6 million of a $7 billion overall education budget. Despite the inadequacy of the fund’s total, it has helped many a rural district through tough times.
My home county of Clay is getting $101,962 from the fund this school year. Other local districts drawing stipends in 2012-13 include Baker, $95,920; Calhoun, $191,929; Miller $113,255; and Quitman, $110,527.
“It looks small, but in proportion, what it means to a small system is gigantic,” the AJC quoted Quitman County Schools Supt. Allen Fort as saying. Another school boss, Taliaferro County’s Jemessyn Foster, told the newspaper she was gearing up to drive a school bus, in addition to her other jobs as a counselor and trash truck driver, if the grant fund is aborted.
Part of the blame for the fund’s poor future is that the Georgia Department of Education has failed to conduct periodic studies to prove the program’s worthiness. Gov. Deal now wants to re-allocate the scanty $2.7 million throughout the entire education budget, according to the Atlanta newspaper.
Another financial problem looming for education in rural Georgia is the oncoming charter-schools freight train that threatens to take even more dollars away from the most vulnerable districts.
The article quoted Freddie Powell Sims, a state senator from Albany, as saying that “the folks in Southwest Georgia don’t have a clue about what’s happening to them. Rural America has lost so much of its political clout over the years.”
That is completely true, but former Gov. Roy Barnes laid it on the line when he said, “A child in Georgia has a constitutional right to a free education, no matter where that child lives. The happenstance of being born in a poor county does not allow the child to receive an inferior education.”
Canceling the sparsity fund seems like a very poor gamble to me.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives in Clay County and writes an occasional opinion column for the Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.