While Georgia was the first state to permit state-approved Bible elective classes in public schools, few districts are offering them now because they can’t afford to hold elective classes with empty seats.
The Legislature approved the Bible classes in 2006. Georgia’s standards for the two English electives — “Literature and History of the Old Testament Era” and “Literature and History of the New Testament Era” — do not provide specific lessons. Students are expected to learn how the Bible came to be, the literary styles that were used, major narratives, the book’s influence on contemporary culture and the development of translations.
During the 2007-08 school year — the first the courses could be taught — 37 of the state’s nearly 440 high schools had the class. Most were outside the metro area, although two schools in Rockdale taught it, and a couple of Cobb students took it as independent study.
With financial shortfalls, schools today can’t offer classes that don’t draw a crowd. Georgia school chief John Barge gave the AP reporter an interesting explanation for the scant enrollment: Students can’t take the Bible classes because they’re repeating math classes.
“We’re not going to utilize a teacher for a whole period with 10 to 15 students. In the past, we may have considered that, but with the economy being the way it is, we just can’t afford to do that, ” said Columbia County schools Superintendent Charles Nagle, who has cut the Bible classes from three to one in his tiny district.
Just 21 middle and high schools in 16 districts — a fraction of the 180 school districts in the state — offered the voluntary classes last school year, the latest data available. That’s compared to 48 districts offering the classes four years ago.
Some of that drop-off is due to students having little time in their class schedules for elective courses because they have to repeat the state’s new, tougher math courses or need an Advanced Placement class to help with college admissions, educators said.
“We’re seeing a lot of elective classes, not just Bible, close because there aren’t enough students taking the courses because they’re repeating math several times, ” said state schools Superintendent John Barge, who worked in Barrow County schools before he was elected.
Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, a Republican from Lyons, said he hopes cash-strapped schools can begin offering Bible classes online to help cut down on costs but keep the courses available. Williams, the most powerful state senator in Georgia, was a backer of the law when it passed in 2006.
“It is unfortunate that schools are not able to offer these classes, but when times are tough local and state government have to make decisions based on the realities of their budgets, in the same way Georgia families and business have had to do with their own budgets, ” Williams said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog