This year Governor Deal promised Georgia teachers a 3 percent raise. The state allotted districts a one-time payment equal to 3 percent of their teacher salaries. Unfortunately, to rural districts turning to furloughing teachers just to keep their doors open, this was only a drop in the bucket.
A large part of the reason that these school districts have such a problem with funding is Recession-era budget cuts, imposed by Deal, make it difficult or even impossible to pay all of their employees.
Georgia had some of the biggest state spending cuts in education in the nation during the Recession, at one point cutting up to 16.5 percent of an already small education budget, offsetting these costs on local districts, which get funding through property taxes (another reason why poverty-stricken parts of Georgia are left behind). At the same time, the state passed tax laws that devastated city and county budgets.
When districts couldn’t afford to make ends meet they were forced to layoff teachers and bus drivers, increase class size and decrease instructional time. As a lingering result, many school districts are still forced to furlough their employees for up to ten days a year to make their measly budget stretch. For districts in a position like this it was impossible to afford the 3 percent pay increase.
According to the AJC, “How school systems used the pay-raise money shows the clear split between urban and rural, have and have-not districts in Georgia. The Department of Education survey shows most urban districts gave pay raises, although not all the full 3 percent. Most who used it to cut furloughs or give one-time bonuses were districts from small-town Georgia.” This is one more way in which rural Georgia is being left behind.
We’re now seeing the repercussions of all these cuts: Georgia has some of the lowest literacy rates in the nation with only 35 percent of third graders reading at grade level. If Deal wants to see Georgia’s literacy rates increase, he’s got to give districts the money they need to offer a good education — one-off teacher raises don’t cut it.