Georgia Needs More than Just Roads to Prosperity

Claire HeadshotI commute from Athens to Atlanta for work. It is not a pleasant drive, as anyone else who sits in traffic on I-85 or Ga. 316 can tell you. So I am happy legislators are talking about Georgia’s increasingly urgent transportation needs and exploring options to cover the cost of meeting them. A better transportation system is critical to the state’s economic future, not to mention my stress level. But I do not understand why they are not also talking about ensuring adequate resources for another issue just as vital to the state’s economic strength: education.

The link between education spending and results is top of mind for me right now because GBPI just published “Money Matters,” a report that shows the connection.

Legislators are discussing the need to improve student results in Georgia’s K-12 schools. That is a positive thing. Most good jobs today require more knowledge and skills than ever. This will be even truer in the future. Competition for good jobs will come from places with high student achievement, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as Germany, South Korea and Canada. Our competition is not just from South Carolina, Alabama and other neighbors.

However, legislators are not talking about ways to provide schools with resources to meet these rising expectations. I hear a lot about making do with less, as schools already cope with 15 years of austerity cuts to state funding for public schools. The austerity cut is $746 million for this school year. About $1 billion was cut each year from 2010 to 2014.  As a result students in 49 districts in Georgia are in school for less than the standard 180 days according to a statewide survey of districts GBPI conducted this summer. Sixty-two percent of districts eliminated electives, 46 percent cut back art and music programs and 36 percent reduced support for struggling students.

These cuts undermine both students’ efforts to reach high levels of academic achievement and promising state policies to build a skilled workforce. Choosing this course defies findings from most of the research on education funding and student achievement, which shows a positive relationship between them. It is also the opposite of what Massachusetts and Louisiana, two states considered educational leaders, did when they embarked on significant education reforms. They increased school funding.

I applaud legislators who now turn their attention to transportation and seem poised to make the tough decision to enhance Georgia’s economic strength through increased revenues. I hope they will broaden the discussion to education. Bolstering the state’s investment in students is as essential to Georgia’s future as it is for roads and transit.


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