This the second of a two-part commentary from reporter Jenny Thompson on education in Newton County
In 1986, Georgia's legislators approved the Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act, which created a formula for schools to receive state funding based on enrollment. For several years, lawmakers have allowed "austerity reductions" to the formula resulting in the loss of expected funds.
Newton County Schools have lost close to $50 million in half a decade due to these cuts. This amount of money is equal to the estimated costs of the construction of the county's fourth high school and new stadium scheduled to open in 2012.
State Sen. Dan Walker (R-Dunwoody), a symposium panelist, said he felt other issues were more important than restoring the QBE formula. He said that would only result in a 1 to 2 percent increase in systems' budgets.
Even a slight increase would help rapidly growing systems, such as Newton County, tremendously. This year is the first in several that NCSS enrollment has grown less than 1,000 students from school year to school year. More students means more teachers must be hired, schools built and materials and equipment purchased.
Richardson has proposed legislation eliminating all ad valorem (property) taxes and increasing sales taxes. While the plan promises to guarantee funds to schools, it unfairly shifts the tax burden to those already struggling.
I take personal issue with this resolution because I am not a home owner and I am a journalist who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, makes about $40,000 less than the average person holding a bachelor's degree.
Maybe I am stubborn or uninformed, but I don't think it is fair that a family living below the poverty level should pay the same amount of taxes as a person who owns a $700,000 home. If things cost more because of local sales taxes, middle class and poor families are less likely to buy, which would result in less dollars generated for schools.
I'm also unsure of how I feel about senior citizens garnering a homestead exemption tax. Someone who only draws $600 a month from social security is different than someone who draws $25,000 a year in pension.
What about a single mother of two who makes $23,000 and struggles to pay her mortgage? Income and not age should determine exemption status.
The income cap is too high, it should be at the poverty index for the number of individuals in the household with the exemption increasing as income decreases - and for all individuals.
No Child Left Behind
The No Child Left Behind Act has done some good because it makes schools where white students achieve better than minority students and where affluent students achieve better than low-income students accountable.
Newton County Schools employees have done an excellent job of narrowing gaps between races and income levels, with schools such as Ficquett Elementary being honored by the state last year for its gains.
Schools that have failed AYP in Newton County differ from those in Rockdale and Henry (where the entire system failed) counties because here students with disabilities did not meet standards.
It is completely unfair and asinine to think students with mental deficiencies, some of whom also come from low-income families, could perform at the same proficiency as normal-skilled, affluent students. However, this is what is required of the act as it stands currently.
There will always be incredibly intelligent children, children who sort of coast through school performing averagely and students who consistently struggle.
The bottom line is, Newton County has a dedicated, intelligent school board, extremely qualified central office staff, fabulous teachers and abundant community resources.
Parents need to invest in their children's educations by taking an interest in the activities and work assigned to their children, asking questions about policies or tests they don't understand, voicing their concerns to administrators and board members and researching educational services offered locally such as the phenomenal children's programs at the library and Leap Into Books program managed by Newton READS.
Even if you don't have children, you should stay abreast of issues in education and support local educators because unskilled or under-performing students are a detriment to national security.
Think of investing in children's health and education as depositing into a 401K account insuring a stable and productive future for all.Jenny Thompson is the education reporter for The Covington News. She can be reached at jthompson@covnews.