State House, Senate hold education sessions
by Celia Shortt
The Georgia State House and Senate Education committees met with school superintendents, boards of education, educators, and members of the public at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts in Newnan on Tuesday to hear their thoughts and concerns on education policy in Georgia.
Those in attendance were from all over Georgia. State Representative Brooks Coleman, chair of the House Education Committee, mentioned the sessions were the first of their kind since he’d been in office.
“We appreciate your time,” he said. “Give us your concerns. We’d like to hear your solutions.”
Coleman is a retired educator who began his career in education in Newnan.
“It’s a pleasure to be here with you,” said Georgia State Senator Lindsey Tippins. “It’s a pleasure to hear what’s on your mind.”
In their respective sessions, both superintendents and board of education members from school districts throughout the state expressed their frustration with having to do more each year with less money.
Several counties reported they needed to raise taxes to balance their budget for Fiscal Year 2015, but knew the citizens in their counties could not afford it. They are also facing having to shorten their school years and require more furlough days of their teachers.
“There is no major new source of revenue without raising taxes,” responded Georgia State Representative Tom Dickson.
“How can we become those advocates to convince people that, yeah, we need to do this?” asked Georgia State Representative Randy Nix.
Dickson did report that funding has been cut, but education has been cut the least. He also said legislators are working with the budget they are given by the governor. He added that next year’s budget includes no additional money, but it has no projected new cuts.
The board of education members echoed the same concerns, but also questioned if there was any type of plan for how to improve funding and help ease these issues they are facing with their districts’ school budgets.
“We don’t hear anything coming from Atlanta about a plan for this getting better,” said Coweta County Board of Education member Frank Farmer.
“Children are my business,” said Coweta Board of Education member Amy Dees. “When you’re making decisions, call us, and get our input. We need you guys to put our children on the forefront. We want what’s best for them.”
“That’s why we’re here,” responded Coleman.
Both Coleman and Tippins encouraged everyone to call them if they have anything they want to discuss.
“We covet your feedback,” said Senator Tippins at the conclusion of the session. “I want to hear your feedback — the good, the bad and the ugly. We need to figure out governance and policy that works and does not just sound good.”
Even with no easy answer to their questions and concerns, the legislators and school officials felt that their time communicating about their concerns was well-spent.
The representatives and senators also held a session for the public, which allowed parents, teachers, and concerned citizens to share their concerns and thoughts about Georgia education policy. Those concerns ranged from lack of funding for schools and their programs, the future of funding and increases in health care costs, to the support or disapproval of the Common Core Curriculum.
Throughout it all, members of the public thanked the legislators for listening to their opinions. The legislators thanked them for speaking and also encouraged them to continue sharing their opinions.
“We truly are trying to reach out to the public of Georgia,” said Senator Tippens.
The Newnan listening session is the first of six scheduled throughout the state. The rest of the sessions include:
• Oct. 8, University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, hosted by Rep. Kevin Tanner and Sen. Steve Gooch.
• Oct. 10, Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, hosted by Rep. Valerie Clark and Sen. David Shafer.
• Oct. 22, Middle Georgia State College, Eastman Campus in Eastman, hosted by Rep. Jimmy Pruett and Sen. John Crosby.
• Oct. 29, Southeastern Technical College in Vidalia, hosted by Rep. Greg Morris and Sen. Tommie Williams.
There will be a time after each session in which the public will be allowed to comment.