From left, State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, Sen. Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro, Rep. Winfred Dukes,
D-Albany, Sen. Freddie Powell-Sims, D-Dawson, and Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, host an educational town hall meeting Saturday at Alice Coachman Elementary School to discuss issues facing education in the state.
ALBANY, Ga. -- As part of a senate Democratic initiative to promote better educational solutions in Georgia, four state senators and a representative held a public hearing Saturday at Alice Coachman Elementary school.
The State Senate Special Task Force on Education included Sens. Freddie Powell-Sims, D-Dawson; Jason Carter, D-Decatur; Gail Davenport, D-Jonesboro; Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale; and Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, and discussed issues concerning the state's education issues with emphasis on Southwest Georgia.
"We are here to carry your concerns back to Atlanta," Carter, the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter, told the gathering. "I come from eight generations of south Georgians' and I have concerns about education in what Sen. Sims calls rural Georgia."
Not surprisingly, much of the 90-minute discussion centered on K-12 school funding woes.
"We want to focus on rural Georgia," Sims said. "I know Albany is not rural but the funding issues that affect Baker, Calhoun and Quitman counties also affect Albany. It is incumbent upon us to help each other out. We want to work just as hard for the Rs as we do for the Ds."
The panel pointed to 10 straight years of cuts in QBE (Quality Basic Education) funding they say have hobbled K-through-12 education in south Georgia. Shrinking QBE funding, money the state provides districts each year for education, began with austerity cuts in 2002-03 and have dwindled each fiscal year since until this past legislative session.
"We've introduced legislation to fully restore QBE funding," Seay said. "We don't think it will go anywhere, but we'll just have to do the best with what we've got."
Audience member asked the panel about the effects that sequestration would have on area schools.
"The dysfunction in Washington is baffling to me," Carter answered. "We have serious budget issues in this state. We have people calling for smaller government, and that's fine, but it must also be effective government. We have shifted the financial burden for education to the districts and that's not right.
"The problem with the current leadership (in Atlanta) is funding with accountability."
Johnnie Hammond of Albany then brought up the possible closure of two schools (Sylvester Rd. Elementary and Dougherty Middle) on Albany's eastside.
"I don't know if you can help us with this problem, but I thought I would ask anyway, she said."
"The reality is that Dougherty County has been losing population each year," Powell-Sims said. "Nobody wants schools closing in their area, but it's probably going to happen.
Second Mt. Zion Pastor Theodus Drake Jr. then spoke up.
"I am all for funding education," Drake said. "but as a taxpayer I don't want to be paying for empty classrooms. My affection for our schools is strong, but my affection for my wallet is stronger.
"We really don't have a choice (to close two schools). The sooner the better."
Powell-Sims then suggested Hammond express her concerns to the Dougherty County School Board.
"Schools are big business, always follow the money," Powell-Sims said. "Ask yourself are my tax dollars being spent wisely. It all starts at the local level."
Carter says much of the blame of the current financial problems lies with policy makers in Atlanta.
"No one at the state level is pushing for educational policy changes," Carter said. "The first thing they'll tell you is that 'there is no money.' Well, that's just an excuse."
"They have demonized public education," Dukes said. "Yet we are seeing gains in education despite it being under attack."
"We are there (Atlanta) to fight for the people," said Davenport.