Are we facing a funding crisis in Georgia public education?
“I haven’t been a superintendent long,” said Douglas County school chief Gordon Pritz, “but I probably picked the toughest four years to venture into the position.”
Although Pritz never used the word “crisis” during his interview with WSB’s Pete Combs, he did point out that since he’s taken over, state funding for Douglas County schools has dropped $67 million. Local property tax funding has dropped more than $12 million. To put that in perspective, the current year’s school budget is $192 million.
Enrollment is up. But the number of teachers is down. A cash reserve that once amounted to $38 million is now approximately $9 million. That’s significantly less than what it takes to run the district for a single month.
“We are definitely in desperate times,” Pritz said.
The situation is a familiar one to school leaders throughout Georgia. Although, in his budget, Governor Nathan Deal has proposed to increase school funding in Georgia by more than a half-billion dollars, it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the cuts districts have suffered. As a result, fewer teachers are coping with bigger classrooms and even the janitors are in danger of being outsourced.
“We may have to get into the short-term loan business, which is not sound practice,” said Pritz, referring to an increasingly common practice by school systems to borrow against anticipated tax earnings.
Increasing taxes is not a solution, he said. There is a 20 mill cap on the amount of property tax Georgia counties can charge for education. The state legislature continues to move away from public school funding initiatives toward private education vouchers and funding for charter schools. Pritz and other education leaders say they are in an ever-tightening vise that leaves them with few options but to shorten the school year and increase the number of children in each class.
“Free public education has been a foundation of these United States,” Pritz said. “We’re in danger of losing that."