By David Pendered
A new report on state funding for K-12 education raises some challenging questions about Georgia’s ability to provide a skilled workforce to businesses – especially in areas beyond metro Atlanta.
School districts are coping with funding cuts through measures including trimming days from the school year and assigning more students to each teacher, according to the report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. School budgets are squeezed by shrinking state support and by the declining local tax base caused by the recession, the report states.
Even as school districts are strapped, the Georgia Department of Economic Development is touting Georgia’s workforce development policies including its support for charter schools, pre-K programs, HOPE scholarships, and strong public technical schools and universities. Georgia has adopted common core standards in math and language arts, and allocates extra funding to districts that provide gifted programs, according to DEcD’s webpage.
A skilled workforce has always been a crucial component in attracting and retaining industries. The issue of a rising shortage of skilled workers gained attention as a real national concern during the fallout of the recession.
As manufacturing regained strength in 2010, companies reported that they couldn’t fill jobs because of a shortage of skilled workers, according to the American Enterprise Institute.
In recent months, the shortage of skilled workers has become evident in construction, where labor constraints are impeding the recovery in some markets, according to sources including the Federal Reserve cited in an article report last month by bloomberg.com.
Georgia’s policy makers have established programs to foster a skilled workforce, according to the report by Claire Suggs, GBPI’s senior education policy analyst. However, the report contends, the state has not provided the resources necessary to accomplish the mission:
- Policymakers have “set higher expectations for students so that they will be truly prepared for postsecondary study and to enter the competitive workforce of the 21st century’s global economy. They have outlined promising policies intended to get students there.
- “They now must provide all of the resources students need to meet these expectations. Anything less shortchanges Georgia’s students and leaves the state with a greatly diminished future.”
As evidence to support its position, the GBPI report provides information for state education and the impact created by cutbacks during the recession in each of Georgia’s 180 school districts. A few highlighted examples of the impact on districts include:
- “Hall County serves 27,351 children. Sixty-one percent of them are economically disadvantaged. Fully funding the state’s QBE formula would send $644 more per student to Hall this year. The value of taxable property fell nearly 17 percent in Hall from 2008 to 2012. The squeeze prompted Hall schools this year to furlough teachers, increase class sizes and cut the school calendar to 176 days from the standard 180.”
- “Whitfield County serves 13,443 students. Seventy-two percent of them are economically disadvantaged. Fully funding the state’s QBE formula would send $728 more per student to Whitfield this year. The value of taxable property fell by more than 18 percent in Whitfield from 2008 to 2012. The squeeze prompted Whitfield schools to increase class sizes, furlough teachers and cut the school calendar to 175 days instead of the 180 standard.”
- “Charlton County serves 1,591 students. About 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. Fully funding the state’s QBE formula would send $685 more per student to Charlton this year. The value of taxable property fell by nearly 10 percent in Charlton from 2002 to 2012. Charlton is coping with the squeeze through increased class sizes, reduced programs for struggling students and cut the school calendar to 178 days from the standard 180.”
The GBPI report includes mention of the rising number of children in poverty. Although much of the poverty is concentrated in districts outside metro Atlanta, poverty is growing significantly in Atlanta’s suburbs, according to the discussion at a recent meeting of the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum.
Students need extra help at school when they live in poor households, according to the GBPI report:
- “More than one million children from low-income families are enrolled in Georgia’s public schools this fall. In the 2012-2013 school year, 60 percent of Georgia’s students qualified for free and reduced-price school lunches since their families were financially needy. These students also are more likely to require additional help with reading, math and other subjects than their peers from higher income families.”
As an aside, a new study reported in Science magazine reports that parents who are in poverty are less able to tend to their children. The article is behind a paywall, but a review is available on theatlanticcities.com.
The report in Science contends that poverty causes such a massive cognitive overload that it reduces IQ by 13 points, comparable to the mental loss of chronic alcoholics compared to normal adults. The loss of mental capacity results in an inability to do activities such as active parenting and paying bills on time – even when money is at hand.