Ga. teachers could face furloughs

ATLANTA - Georgia's teachers could face six unpaid furlough days a year as the state grapples with a massive budget shortfall.

Teachers have so far been immune to state-mandated furloughs that have hit other state agencies hard.

The chairman of the House budget panel that handles education said Tuesday that the state should consider having teachers give up six planning days. The roughly $200 million in savings could then be funneled back to cash-strapped school districts to help them avoid layoffs.

"We would be remiss if we did not consider it," said state Rep. Ed Lindsey, an Atlanta Republican.

Such furloughs would need legislation. Lindsey said lawmakers were looking into how to continue.

The news drew a mixed review from teachers' groups.

Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, sounded resigned to the possibility.

"We realize as good Georgia citizens and good public servants, we might be called on to do our part," Hubbard said. "It would take away from the time we could spend utilizing how better to work with our students."

A spokesman for the 75,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators called teacher furloughs a "terrible idea."

"We really ought not to be trying to balance the budget on the backs of the state's 125,000 educators and their families," Tim Callahan said. "This tells them planning days can easily be discarded when they are very important."

Unlike most state employees, who have had their pay frozen this fiscal year, teachers saw a 2.5 percent raise. Lindsey said the furloughs would effectively erase that salary hike.

Also Tuesday, the House Education panel cobbled together $29 million to restore state funding for nurses in the state's schools. Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget recommended slashing state money for the school nurses, igniting howls of protest from parents and educators. They said with student health problems - like diabetes - on the rise, the nurses are needed more than ever. In Georgia, there is currently about one nurse for every 1,598 students.

The spending plan the House education panel voted out on Tuesday also restored funding for graduation coaches.

The full House Appropriations Committee is set to vote on the 2010 budget Wednesday morning. The budget covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In other state budget news on Tuesday:

-Health budget writers shoveled an additional $200 million in federal stimulus dollars to Medicaid, filling a massive funding hole for hospitals. The panel also reduced proposed cuts to the state portion of state employees health plan.

-The state Ethics Committee had its budget chopped in half, from $1.5 million to about $750,000. The commission's executive director, Rick Thompson, said the proposed cuts would mean significant staff reductions in the panel charged with policing the conduct of state officials.

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