Education officials weigh in on Deal's budget
by Mark Andrews
May 12, 2013 | 1466 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Nathan Deal’s nearly $37.1 billion Fiscal Year 2014 budget signed Tuesday, May 7, shows increases in areas of education spending, including more than $320 million in combined lottery and budget funds to expand the state’s pre-K program, increasing the calendar to 180 days and providing 84,000 slots to 4-year-olds. While the Department of Early Care and Learning will see an initial drop in $7,756 in budget funding, it also will see an increase of $13.5 million in lottery funds compared to FY 2013.

Bartow County Director of Elementary Curriculum Buffy Williams said the county’s pre-K program, which in FY 2013 began holding pre-K classes at various schools within the county after the closing of STARS Pre-K, currently hosts 18 classes with about 396 students. The program’s calendar year currently is at around 172 days and has more than 150 students on its waiting list.

“Usually, in a typical year, we’re always short, close to $100,000, from what the state would give us to run our pre-K classes ... and that’s due to the cost of our teachers,” Williams said. “... When [the state] started putting some holds on pre-K, they froze the teachers at a T4 [pay level], or a beginning salary, and that’s what we were being paid.

“We ended up in Bartow County, paying our teachers [at their current pay level], we didn’t drop them back to a T4, but we did end up freezing them [at their current pay level] so if there was a teacher with a teaching certificate who had been working 16 years, we would pay them for their 16 years instead of dropping them back to a first-year salary.”

While Williams said she is optimistic about the increase in state funds for pre-K in 2014, she said the system also is looking at ways to avoid extra costs with the pre-K program.

“Having the money and being able to bring [pre-K] back to a 180-day calendar will be great because a lot of our parents were having to find something to do with their students the last part of the school year because we were ending pre-K earlier than our regular school year,” Williams said. “But, we are also looking at ways as a system we don’t have any extra cost ...”

The budget includes more than $92 million in bonds for renovations, equipment and new building construction for the Technical College System of Georgia. Budget funding for the TCSG has decreased by $24.6 million compared to FY 2013.

“Chattahoochee Technical College improvement money from the state is going toward renovations of the Woodstock Campus in Cherokee County,” CTC Specialist for Public Relations Rebecca Long said. “This is a major undertaking, as the buildings there are originally from Woodstock Elementary school and date back to the first part of the 1900s. This is around $5 million in upgrades and renovations.”

She said most ongoing projects at the North Metro Campus, including an expansion of the library and renovating a “clean classroom,” will be funded through previous years’ budgets.

The state’s charter schools program will see a decrease of $5,000 and $54,806, respectively, in planning grants and facility grant funding, but a transfer of budget funds from the central office program to the charter schools program in the amount of $347,744 will create an increase of $287,938. Charter systems, however, will see $47.1 million in grants available in FY 2014, if they are in their initial contract.

Cartersville City Schools, a charter system, is currently in its third year of a five-year charter.

“We’ve gotten some [funding] each year because we are a charter system ... now where we’ll go in future years we don’t know, but we get a little bit and all we do is take that and put it into our budget each year,” Cartersville Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said.

The total state education budget for 2014 is $1.6 million, unchanged from 2013. However, there are notable increases and decreases in funding with some programs receiving no funding at all.

For example, The Georgia Learning Resources System, funded through federal discretionary funds via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, requested $6.3 million for 2014, the same as 2013, and received $0. According to www.doe.k12.ga.us, the GLRS, “is a network of 17 regional programs that provide training and resources to school district personnel, parents of students with disabilities, and other interested individuals to support the achievement, graduation rate, and post-secondary success of students with disabilities.”

School improvement funding more than doubled from 2013, increasing from $5.1 million to $13.7 million.

“I’ve always said, the greatest challenge to governance is the challenge to restrain yourselves in the good times. In the hard times, restraint is a matter of necessity. In the good times, it’s a matter of discipline,” Deal said in an Associated Press article. “As we hopefully move into the good times, all of us have agreed that is the challenge that leadership faces. It is too often tempting to say, ‘Well, we have a whole lot more money than we did last year, so let me tell you about all the good ideas I have to spend it.’”