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Funding dominates Albany regional educational summit

Ten members of the Georgia Legislature met with regional school officials in Albany on improving public education

From left, state Sen. Lindsey Tippins and Reps. Mike Dudgeon and Valerie Clark are shown at the start of a public forum during an educational summit held Thursday at Darton State College. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

From left, state Sen. Lindsey Tippins and Reps. Mike Dudgeon and Valerie Clark are shown at the start of a public forum during an educational summit held Thursday at Darton State College. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

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From left, State Reps. Valerie Clark, Margaret Kaiser and Mike Dudgeon are shown during a meeting with regional school board members during an educational summit held Thursday at Darton State College. (Staff Photo: Terry Lewis)

ALBANY — Ten state legislators held an education summit Thursday at Darton State College. All 10, five lawmakers from the Senate and five from the House, met with regional school superintendents and school board members before wrapping up the evening with a public forum dominated by teachers and school principals.

The purpose of the summit was to discuss ways to improve public education for the state’s kindergarten through 12th grade students.

During each meeting, the legislators heard a recurring theme — ,fix public education by restoring funding and doing away with austerity cuts.

“I think we heard ‘restore the funding cuts you’ve made in education, remove mandates and allow us to have some flexibility,’” Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, who organized the event, said. “It was a good day. A lot of work went into the planning.

“Mainly we wanted educators in Southwest Georgia to know we are listening to them and that they are not alone.”

Turnout was large for all three sessions, but Sims said she was especially pleased with the attendance at the superintendents’ meeting.

“The superintendents’ meeting went extremely well,” she said. “Frankly, I wasn’t expecting that many superintendents to attend. They came from all over Southwest Georgia, and from as far away Houston County.”

While other issues such as the recently adopted Common Core, potential teacher evaluations, and raising the dropout age for students, the subject always seemed to drift back to funding.

“Austerity cuts have resulted in furlough days for our employees,” Mickey Weldon, principal of Charles Spencer Elementary School in Tifton, told the legislators during the public forum. “It’s very hard to ask our teachers to take pay cuts to do their jobs. Oh, and Common Core is working. It’s strong. Leave it alone.”

Sims agreed.

“All of our superintendents have said more than once that they are concerned about austerity cuts, they would like to see them restored, many of them are still furloughing teachers, many of them have shortened their school years,” Sims said.

Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, whose wife is a teacher, has said on more than one occasion that he acknowledges the austerity cuts are painful. But he added they are the result of an economy which is just beginning to recover.

“It’s (education) over 50 percent of the budget. The budget is the only bill that we have to pass in the Georgia General Assembly and education gets its fair share,” Rynders said.

Lee County Principal Kevin Dowling also urged restoration of funding and challenged the lawmakers to “come to our schools and teach for a day.”