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HUCKABY: Mr. Deal, those belts are already tightened

Wow. Nathan Deal says that we have to tighten our belts in public education — especially in grades K-12. I hate to tell him, but where I am we have punched about as many holes in our proverbial belt as the leather that’s left will allow. And we are one of the lucky districts.

Public education is a lot like the weather. Everybody talks about it but nobody ever does anything. We all give lip service to wanting good public schools that will educate the leaders of tomorrow and provide them with the tools to succeed and compete in the global economy of the 21st century — as long as we can do it without spending too much money.

Now don’t hear anything I’m not saying. I like what I do. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t keep doing it. But there comes a time when enough is enough.

Two years ago my county was forced to furlough all professional personnel for six days. I hated to complain too much because a lot of my friends were looking for jobs, but six days pay is still six days’ pay. And we are still expected to teach the curriculum. With all the instructional time that is now devoted to the Holy Grail of standardized testing, that is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge, even in a 180-day year.

And we were among the lucky ones. Some systems were forced to furlough teachers eight, 10 and even 12 days. Some systems have increased the day a few minutes and cut 20 days out of the school schedule. That can’t possibly be an effective tactic. The mind can only absorb what the bottom can endure. Kids need time to meditate on the instruction they receive. It needs to percolate a little in their impressionable minds. If anything we need to stretch the instruction out, not condense it.

Class size has increased, programs have been cut and luxury items like paper and books have been stricken from budgets from Rabun Gap to Tybee Light. Meanwhile, the state of Georgia remains at or near the bottom in most areas by which educational effectiveness is measured.

The governor-elect says we have to be ready to tighten our belts. If my belt gets any tighter, I’ll have to pay to go to work every day.

If that weren’t bad enough, the HOPE scholarship is in danger, too. This recession has quit being a joke when people stop buying lottery tickets!

Actually, I don’t think lottery revenue is down as much as HOPE expenditures are up. It is probably a combination of the two. Faced with rising costs and shrinking funds colleges and universities across the state are raising tuition, which cuts into the HOPE coffers. And more and more students are qualifying for HOPE, which obviously means greater expenditures.

The bottom line is, we are spending the HOPE money faster than we can take it in. Therein, as they say, lies the rub. We can’t force people to gamble away money they don’t have. If we can’t increase our income we have to decrease our spending.

HOPE has already made drastic cuts in payments for certain fees and this year the book budget will be cut in half, but these are mere stop-gap measures. Another thought is that maybe we will quit using funds to pay for remedial courses in college. If I didn’t despise hearing people say, “Well, duh!” I would say “Well, duh!” right here.

HOPE guidelines specify that monies should go to help “outstanding pupils excel.” Outstanding pupils are defined as those maintaining a B average. Students with a B average should not have to take remedial courses in college, and students who have to take remedial courses in college shouldn’t have been able to maintain a B average. But that brings up the question of rigor and grade inflation, and those are volatile subjects that nobody wants to address.

So we instead discuss cutting funding to the children of middle-class working parents who don’t really “need” HOPE to attend college so we have plenty of funds available for the “needy” students, even though a large percentage of those will lose funding after the first two semesters of college.

January should be a lot of fun. Get the women and children off the infield once the Legislature convenes, and thank you Nathan Deal for being the Grinch that stole Christmas with your happy pronouncement.

Oh, yes. He did say he would give local systems “more flexibility,” but like my friend Herb Garrett said, we can’t pay Georgia Power with flexibility.

Merry Christmas, fellow educators. I wonder if it’s too late to ask Santa to bring Zell Miller back to the Governor’s Mansion?

Darrell Huckaby will be signing his books today at Evans Market, 4741 Ga. Highway 20 S in Conyers from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. — snow or shine! E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.