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Schools to lawmakers: Send money
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Forsyth County News
Forsyth County school officials met with members of the local legislative delegation last week in their annual attempt to present local education priorities to the lawmakers before the gavel falls in January to convene the General Assembly.

As might be expected, much of the discussion was financial in nature, with local officials impressing upon state lawmakers the financial tightrope being walked by those responsible for managing the county’s schools.

Similar conversations are taking place all across Georgia, as school board members and superintendents anxiously ponder the convening of another legislative session and warily await decisions on the next state budget.

While not privy to all those discussions, we would hope the message lawmakers are getting from their local school leadership, stripped down to the most basic form, is something like this:

• If you are going to make us do it, pay for it. Stop mandating programs you aren’t going to fund.

• If you promise to fund it, do it. State legislators have a legacy of promising funding to schools then failing to follow through long term on their commitments.

• Judge us by the outcome, not the process. School systems need flexibility to achieve standards set by the state. What works well in one place doesn’t necessarily work well somewhere else.

• One size does not fit all. School systems across the state have huge differences. Programs that try to treat them all the same guarantee failure for some.

• Find a direction and stick with it. Every time a new governor is elected or the power shifts in the legislature, a quantum shift in state educational policy seems sure to follow, frequently just as school systems are catching up to the latest “reform” movement that may only be a year or two old.

• Local taxes count too. Georgia lawmakers are quick to crow about saving taxes by reducing educational spending, ignoring the fact that doing so often simply shifts the tax burden to local school systems.

• Set the budget, not the curriculum. The place to debate what should be taught in the classroom is not the floor of the General Assembly, where hot potato curriculum ideas sometime serve as unneeded distractions from more important educational issues.

By virtually every measure, Georgia’s public schools are lacking in comparison to those of other states. That such is the case is due largely to the seemingly inherent inability of governors and legislators to quit using schools and educational policy as pawns in their annual political games.

That’s the message state lawmakers need to understand.