Since being elected Governor, Sonny Perdue has cut more than $1.3 billion dollars from the state funding for Georgia’s public schools through “austerity cuts”. His announced austerity cuts for the next school year exceed $100 million. But the economic recession, declining tax revenue and increased state operating costs are driving that number higher. Economists forecast that Perdue’s next cut to school funding will surpass $375 million. And there’s no end in sight.
The Georgia PTA convened its annual PTA Day at the Capitol on February 24, 2009. It’s an informative program for citizens interested in our public schools and our state government. And, consistent with previous editions, this year’s event was outstanding.
Governor Perdue’s relentless cutting of public school funding was the common thread in every issue discussed. Increases in class size, reductions in programs, eliminations of positions, delays in improvements; the list of insults to our public schools as a result of Perdue’s cuts knows no limits. Their number is exceeded, it seems, only by the profound injuries they inflict.
At the Capitol, PTA representatives met with members of the General Assembly. The consensus was clear: our public schools are in jeopardy and the situation is very likely to get worse. “We can’t afford to pay for it” is the unanimous refrain.
No enterprise could possibly survive the loss of revenue experienced by Georgia’s public schools since Sonny Perdue took office. Yet in spite of this fact the cuts to state funding for public schools are expected to continue unabated.
As a citizen, the current condition of Georgia’s public schools is unacceptable. The Governor’s cutting of education funding is outrageous. And the current state of affairs reminds me of a story I heard long ago.
In 1968, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy brought his presidential campaign to the deep south. He chose Birmingham, Alabama as the location to deliver a speech about his positions on public education issues. And an unruly crowd turned out to greet him.
As Senator Kennedy spoke about the fundamental importance of public schools and their necessity to a democracy, individuals in the crowd began to heckle him. Ignoring them, Robert Kennedy continued his call to create the best possible schools open to every child in the community.
“Who’s going to pay for all of this?” Someone in the mob shouted.
There was a pause.
“Who’s going to pay for all of this?” The heckler yelled again.
Departing from his prepared address, Senator Kennedy turned to the individuals in his audience who’d been shouting at him.
“Some have asked, ‘Who’s going to pay for all of this?’ That is a fair question. And I shall answer it.”
“Who’s going to pay for all of this?”
“We will. We all will pay for it.”
“The alternative would be to pay for not doing it. And none of us can afford that.”