State must meet its legal obligation to adequately fund our schools

Last week the editor of this paper made excellent points about the effect of local politicians making unconstitutional choices and the financial impact on the taxpayers. While the $12,000 lost by the Peachtree City Council is substantial, we need to consider the actions of the Georgia state legislature that have cost the taxpayers of Fayette County over $75 million to date. This loss has directly impacted our schools and their future.

The Georgia Constitution clearly states, “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation” (Georgia Constitution 8-1-1).

The state of Georgia defines adequate public education and clearly calculates the amount of funding required to pay for the basic education of students in public schools (Chapter 2 of Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to the “Quality Basic Education Act”).

The legislature has not fully funded our schools, as legally required, for several years, adding “austerity” reductions in 2002.

While their first excuse is the economy, you will note that funding for charter schools and private school tax credits have grown in the same period. In addition, the state has gone back to sales tax holidays, which is not something you would expect from an entity not able to meet its obligations.

We are looking at the very real possibility of stripping every advantage out of our excellent Fayette County Public Schools including kindergarten and first-grade parapros, music, art, and dramatically increasing class sizes as the state looks to take another $14 million that Fayette County is legally owed by the state.

Some have argued that our school spending is “out of control” but fail to explain how spending near the state average per pupil is extravagant. Worse, they cannot tell us how cutting spending by over $600 per pupil will not impact our excellent Fayette County Public Schools.

To be clear we do have to make some cuts, which may include closing or consolidating schools.

I do not believe additional taxes from the Fayette County taxpayer is the answer. The taxpayers of Fayette County must partner with our legislative delegation and the governor and demand that they follow the law. They can fund other projects after they have fully funded public schools as required by law. After all, how many of us could get away with only sending in part of our tax bill because we wanted money for Starbucks?

For too long the taxpayers have remained silent while the legislature has played a version of “Hunger Games” with our public schools, on one hand withholding funds, while criticizing the results with the other.

I do not want to believe that of our Fayette delegation. However, without our feedback and support they may not feel the necessity to show courageous leadership and turn back or stop the actions that will gut our system. For example, there is a bill in the hopper to double state private school tax credits from $50 million to $100 million while taking more from K-12 education.

I ask that we, the taxpayers, contact our legislative delegation (contact information below) and urge them to take action to reduce this $14 million cut, preferably to zero.

We cannot let the excellence of our Fayette County Public Schools be taken to fund other areas of the budget. We must continue to tighten our own costs, but the state must meet its own legal obligations.

Governor Deal: georgia.governor@gov.state.ga.us

Senator Chance: ronnie.chance@senate.ga.gov

Senator Seay: valencia.seay@senate.ga.gov

Representative Fludd: virgil.fludd@house.ga.gov

Representative Ramsey: matt.ramsey@house.ga.gov

Representative Yates: john.yates@house.ga.gov

Representative Abdul-Salaam: roberta.abdul-salaam@house.ga.gov

Representative Jordan: darryl.jordan@house.ga.gov

Neil Sullivan

NeilSullivan72@gmail.com

Peachtree City, Ga.