NEWNAN, Ga. — Republicans serving on the House and Senate education committees are asking educators for ideas on how to convince the public that taxes need to be raised for additional school funding.
The appeal for advice came Tuesday in the first of several meetings planned across the state by the legislative panels that deal with education issues.
The meetings, the first in recent memory, are billed as “listening sessions” in which local superintendents, board members and teachers are invited to comment on any topic. Typical legislative field hearings involve specific agenda items.
The concern raised most often is the desire for more money. Though education has suffered fewer cuts than other parts of state government since the recession, teachers and administrators expressed frustration that they, like most private employees, have expanded duties with a slimmer workforce.
“Every year, it’s, ‘We’ve got to do more with less.’ When do we get to do more with more?” said Levi Young, an East Coweta High School history instructor and former county teacher of the year.
Rep. Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, told each of the three sessions Tuesday with superintendents, board members and teachers that proposing a tax increase is politically difficult when one-third of parents never set foot on a school campus.
“How do we as legislators sell this to people?” he asked. “If we go raise taxes, we’re all out of here.... How do we become the advocates?”
Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, said that many of their General Assembly colleagues had gotten elected on a pledge to oppose all tax increases.
“The bottom line becomes there is no new source of revenue without raising taxes,” said Dickson, a former local superintendent and chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “Y’all are going to have to get on the phone and call people if you want to raise taxes.”
Besides funding, the educators also said they support keeping the Common Core standards adopted by the state Board of Education and most other states, warning that a change so close to implementation would be a waste of the time already spent in preparation. However, a few parents and one board member called for the state to reject the Common Core because of expensive online tests and fears that personal data about students would be transmitted outside of Georgia.
Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, asked each session about his constitutional amendment that would allow voters in each school district to decide if they want to elect their local superintendent instead of having a board appointee. He said it is a popular idea with people he’s talked to, but there appeared to be little support for it Tuesday.
“Do we need more politics in education or do we need less politics in education?” said Butts County Superintendent Robert Costley.
The committees plan to hold seven or eight more meetings around the state but have only scheduled three so far. The next is Tuesday in Dahlonega followed by Oct. 22 in Eastman and Oct. 29 in Vidalia.
House Education Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, said the goal is for the committees to get input from people on the front lines of education.
“This is the first time in my 22 years (in the House) I remember anything like this happening,” he said.