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Money talks for schools

ATLANTA -- Many of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education's "Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2010" are connected by a common thread: money.

The sixth annual report outlines 10 issues that will likely affect public education in the coming year. The findings are based on current research, national trends and state policy developments.

The Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan independent organization that focuses on impacting education policies and practices for the improvement of student achievement.

The report's author, the Partnership's Policy and Research Director Susan Walker, said the issues are not ranked in order of importance. The first issue discussed in the publication, however, is the state budget.

"Revenues are still down. The cuts to education are deep," Walker said. "The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act relieved some of the impact. It's been helpful in plugging some of the budget holes, but it can't plug all the holes."

Although Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke announced in September that it was "very likely" the recession had ended, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner acknowledged a month later, "For every person out of work, for every family facing foreclosure, for every small business facing a credit crunch, the recession remains alive and acute," Walker said.

For schools, the fiscal outlook remains grim, Walker said.

The next issue discussed in the report is Georgia's application for Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion competitive grant fund established by ARRA. Walker said it's the largest amount of discretionary funding for K-12 education reform in history.

The Race to the Top competition includes four core reform areas: standards and assessments, data systems to support instruction, great teachers and leaders, and turning around the lowest-achieving schools, Walker said. Forty states, including Georgia, and Washington, D.C., submitted an application for the first phase of the competition.

Gwinnett County Public Schools was one of 23 school districts that decided to partner with the state in implementing Georgia's Race to the Top plan.

The next four topics in the report focus on the four core reform areas required by Race to the Top.

Other topics include college access for all, the expanding charter school frontier, education litigation in Georgia and understanding rural Georgia.

Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said the top 10 issues identified by the Partnership are aligned with many of the issues the district is watching.

"Budget concerns top the list for all districts in Georgia, including Gwinnett," she said. "We also are very interested in Georgia's Race to the Top funds and how these funds and initiatives might advance our school system.

"Another focus in Gwinnett is in the area of great teachers and leaders. We have to ensure we continue to recruit quality candidates, while retaining the outstanding employees already here. We also want to make sure that we are effectively evaluating and compensating our employees. And, it goes without saying that teaching and learning is our core business; so, student achievement continues to be a focus in 2010."

Georgia Partnership President Steve Dolinger said it's important for people to be knowledgeable about the key education issues facing the state.

"When I hear someone say they don't have a child in the school system so they don't care or follow what is happening, I realize we must redouble our efforts to better inform the public," he said. "We are all education stakeholders. What happens in our schools has a direct economic impact in all our communities and directly upon us as citizens."

The report is available online at www.gpee.org. The Partnership will provide up to two copies for free upon request. Post reimbursement will be requested for orders of more than two. For more information, call 404-223-2280 or e-mail Bill Maddox at bmaddox@gpee.org.