The idea is that children will get a better education if there are fewer pupils in classrooms. That means more classrooms to put them in and more teachers to teach them.
The governor's Education Reform Act was created to improve education in Georgia. But there may not be enough teachers to fill all the new classrooms.
"This past year was the first year we really felt the pinch," said Connie Davis, Columbia County School System personnel director. "I kept hearing that there was a worsening situation in Georgia, but it is beginning to hit locally simply because we need so many teachers with the growth and with the (House Bill) 1187 movement to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio."
With a tight labor market, Ms. Davis said it's been difficult to find quality teachers.
Georgia's Board of Education Web site lists 829 active job openings in the state. There are five in Columbia County at this time; three are in special education, one of the hardest areas to fill.
According to the Georgia Teaching Force Center's Status Report 2000, a study of the supply and demand of teachers, there were more than 91,000 pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade public schoolteachers employed in Georgia schools in 2000. The number of teachers in Georgia has been growing by approximately 2,500 a year for the past five years because of an increasing pupil population.
"Because of this growth and the need to replace those who leave teaching, the number of new teachers hired each year has reached a troublesome level," the report states. "The demand is troublesome because of difficulties reported by school systems across Georgia in hiring 10,176 qualified teachers to the teaching positions open (this year)."
Meanwhile, the number of students training in Georgia colleges to be teachers has declined by more than 1,000 since 1996, from 5,189 in 1996 to 4,090 in 2000. Georgia's 180 school systems are all competing for the same teachers.
"We are literally eating our young," said Donnie Porter, a spokesman for the Richmond County School System. "You've got a lot of people fighting over the same pool of applicants. Where we used to go to South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and, of course, Georgia, now we are having to go up North to try to recruit folks."
Currently, there are 48 positions for certified professionals open in the Richmond County school system; 18 of those are for special education teachers.
More people would be attracted to the profession if it paid more, Mr. Porter said. Gov. Roy Barnes has asked for a 4.5 percent pay raise for all of Georgia's teachers. A first-year teacher with a four-year teaching certificate will make $29,068 for a 190-day contract in Richmond County.
The gap between supply and demand will continue to widen as the pupil population grows and more teachers hit retirement age.
State Sen. Don Cheeks, D-Augusta, has introduced Senate Bill 86, which would allow retired teachers to return to the classroom without affecting their benefits.
Columbia County has already scheduled two recruiting days, the first one Feb. 16. While the system usually hires 80 to 100 certified professionals every year, last year that number jumped to 180. Ms. Davis said the school system is trying to get a head start on recruiting so it has a larger pool to hire from. And they're looking at ways to make salaries more competitive.
"The shortage of teachers is going to change a lot of things for a lot of systems," Ms. Davis said. "Anytime you're in a tight market, you have to look at having the best situation and the most attractive resources. If we are paying more they are more apt to stay. "
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113.
For more information, go to www.TeachInGeorgia.org.