Opinion Editorial: Penny wise and pound foolish school budgets

The Columbus Ledger Enquirer Editorial Board cites research from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute in its recent editorial.  

Georgia’s deep cuts in education funding, affecting both K-12 and postsecondary schools, have been prominent topics of discussion and debate in the wake of the 2008 recession.

Local school systems, including the MCSD and other area Georgia public school districts, have had to furlough teachers, pack more students in classrooms, cut support staff and find other savings wherever they could in order to weather a 12.5 percent cut in state spending (11.4 percent for pre-K).

Both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia have endured deep post-recession cuts as well, 19.8 percent and 11 percent respectively. Students and their families have had to make up the difference, with soaring tuition costs and the concurrent drop in HOPE scholarship revenues.

Those reductions in state spending can be explained, if perhaps not altogether justified, by the fiscal realities of a state the recession hit especially hard.

But a new report by the independent, nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (gbpi.org), an Atlanta-based think tank and research/analysis nonprofit, provides compelling evidence that trying to fund education on the cheap is something that began in Georgia long before the slump. According to a GBPI analysis released last week, Georgia lawmakers have in effect been cutting education spending since 2001.

“Serving more with less is not a recent phenomenon resulting from the Great Recession,” budget analyst Cedric Johnson wrote in the report summary, “but rather an ongoing, decade-long trend.”

That trend, as per GBPI-crunched numbers, has seen per-student state spending, adjusted for inflation, fall a whopping 58 percent for higher education; the same inflation-adjusted figures show a 92 percent increase in tuition and mandatory fees.

State funding of K-12 has likewise declined dramatically, even when the U.S. economy has been relatively robust. GBPI reports that the state share of primary and secondary education was approximately 60 percent in 2001, with local taxpayers picking up the other 40. By 2010, the report contends, the state share had declined to about half. That translates, obviously, into hundreds of millions of dollars.

The GBPI report notes that the most recent General Assembly passed, and Gov. Nathan Deal signed, a 1.3 percent increase in K-12 funding for 2012-13. Any reversal of the trend is welcome, but the inflation adjusted per-pupil expenditure will still be less than that of 11 years ago.

If there’s ever been a more obvious Pay Now or Pay Later proposition in human affairs than education, it would be hard to find. If Georgia has indeed been lowballing its schools for more than a decade, then partisan finger-pointing would be worse than irrelevant, because there’s more than enough blame to go around.

Related Materials:

FY 2013 Budget Analysis: PK-12 Education

FY 2013 Budget Analysis: Higher Education

Press Release


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