We’re in a state budget crisis to be sure. Georgia is facing a $600 million budget shortfall. (Predictions for the current budget year paint a disturbing picture of as much as a $2 billion deficit.) Clearly action is needed. So as our legislators struggle to figure out how to deal with a $600 million budgetary shortfall, they’re looking for places to cut. Some have suggested taking back the already promised 2.5 percent raise to our hard-working educators in Georgia. I would call this cruel and unusual punishment for educators who did nothing to create this fiscal fiasco.
All of us are feeling the economic pinch at the grocery store, at the gas pump, and just about everywhere else these days. The cost of living shot up 5.23% in the first six months of 2008 alone. In fact, Georgia educators have been making due with even less for a while now. The raises since 2003 have crept along just below inflation, while health care, once a crown jewel of teaching, has eroded in value. Health care premiums for state educators have climbed another 7 percent. A 2.5 percent will do little to offset that, but it was money that was promised in April. Since then, educators—and their families—across Georgia have been banking on that raise. To rescind it now would be to cripple household budgets and break a promise.
And when we, as a state, go around breaking those kinds of promises, we send a very loud message to future educators: Don’t come here. Just days before schools are set to open, there are still staffing shortages in 77 Georgia counties. We talk about creating world-class schools. We talk about recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. We talk about student success. Now, more than ever, it is the time to keep our promises—because we’re all in this together. To do anything else would be bad for business.
We have watched as the state built a $1.5 billion surplus by cutting education funding $1.5 billion. Teachers and Education Support Professionals work with Georgia's 1.6 million public school students because we love our jobs, but we should not be the ones who rescue the state from its rapture with Pork, corporate giveaways, and poorly implemented tax breaks. It is time for Georgia’s leaders to lead this state toward a better future; that is why we elected them.
President of the Georgia Association of Educators