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State schools chief expects tough budget

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

ATLANTA — State School Superintendent John Barge said school systems will continue to have to “do more with less” this year.

Speaking Friday at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s annual media symposium, Barge said he will be working with Gov. Nathan Deal and state legislators in the coming weeks to refine the budget.

Barge said many expected the state budget to be “worse than it was.” He praised Deal for taking “great care” to prevent deeper cuts to K-12 education.

At a glance

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s “Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2011” includes action steps to help Georgia become a national education leader. Some of the steps are as follows:

• Make education Georgia’s No. 1 economic development priority.

• Continue to involve all stakeholders — including teachers, school leaders and community members — in the Race to the Top process and communicate regularly with updates on the implementation.

• Safeguard the financial resources that fund public prekindergarten.

• Support and strengthen programs that support work, including child care subsidies, transportation assistance and expanded paid leave policies.

• Study successful schools that have closed achievement gaps, publish best practices and train educators to modify instruction to meet the unique needs of students from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds.

• Maintain support for the current single high school diploma policy and improve counseling services to help students customize their course of study to best meet their needs and interest.

• Given the current budget crisis in public education, determine the return on investment to all taxpayers of expansions of school choice initiatives.

• Take a long-term approach to solving the fiscal crisis that includes new revenue sources.

• Finalize development and implementation of the longitudinal data system and new teacher evaluation system.

• Provide accurate information about Georgia’s cohort graduation rate.

He said he’ll be working to create efficiencies within the Department of Education model cost-saving behaviors for local school districts.

“One of the benefits of growing up in poverty is you figure out how to get things done with limited resources,” he said.

With decreasing local revenues that stem primarily from shrinking property tax digests, Barge said the upcoming budget year will be another tough one for schools.

“I do not think (some school systems) can avoid furloughs,” he said. “It will vary from system to system.”

Reduced budgets are one of the top issues in education for the coming year, said Susan Walker, the policy and research director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

Also at the symposium, Walker presented the “Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2011,” the seventh in a series of annual reports profiling the education policy, legislative and programmatic issues that will shape our public school systems in the coming year.

The “Top Ten” draws on current research, national trends and state policy developments to identify 10 issues that will impact the work of educators and the outcomes of students in Georgia.

New to the publication this year are 10 indicators that gauge Georgia’s progress in becoming a national education leader. The indicators show there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Georgia’s among the top 20 states in the nation in terms of the number of 3- to 5-year-olds enrolled in early education and the number of students earning Advanced Placement college credit in high school.

But the state is lagging behind in fourth-grade reading performance and eighth-grade mathematics performance, as well as high school and college graduation rates.

“If we can more forward and take action on these 10 issues ... we will see improvements on the 10 indicators,” Walker said.

The 10 issues include Georgia’s new state leaders, Race to the Top, early childhood learning, poverty, student achievement gaps, college and career readiness, school choice, school funding, teacher effectiveness and data collection.

The report will soon be released by the Georgia Partnership. For more information, visit www.gpee.org.