I have been surprised at the opposition toward the education SPLOST on the Nov. 8 ballot in Atlanta, Fulton, DeKalb, Decatur, Gwinnett, Buford, Cherokee and Henry.
Given the stark reduction in state funds for education and the depressed housing market, schools are in desperate straits, and there would seem to be no more critical time to renew the penny sales tax for construction and capital improvements than now.
Among those who have not signed on — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the business community. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year, Reed said the penny — which has helped build or renovate 84 city schools or other buildings in the last 15 years— instead needs to go to a regional transportation plan expected to be put to voters next year.
Reed did not want the school system to seek to renew its SPLOST because Atlanta residents will be asked three times to raise their taxes between November and July. In March, Atlantans will vote on an extension of a 1-cent sales tax to upgrade the city’s water and sewer system, and later deal with another penny tax on the transportation bill. If both were to pass, Reed warned that the city would have the state’s highest sales tax at 9 percent and would be at a competitive disadvantage.
But won’t the entire state be at a competitive disadvantage if the schools are underfunded?
Here is what another Atlanta Mayor, Shirley Franklin, says about the lack of any visible support from the business community for the education SPLOST:
The Metro and Georgia chambers have stood silently by while devastating cuts to education occurred — from pre-k all the way through higher ed. The Metro and Georgia chambers talk about a knowledge-based economy but they just do not go to bat for the public investment to make it so.
We are no different than 50 years ago when our economic development strategy consisted of building more roads (or ports) and believing they shall come. The talk has changed, just not the walk. Over the long-term, we will be beat by those states that really do invest in the knowledge economy. The data is overwhelming — higher paying jobs following higher educational attainment — and I am not just talking about four year B.A. degrees; this includes some level of post-secondary attainment, whether two or four years.
Georgia lost 31,000 jobs from September 2010-September 2011. We are a sinking ship. If it were not for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, we would be dead in the water. Our neighboring states cannot duplicate this asset anytime soon, but this will not help the rest of Georgia, just metro Atlanta.
What would I like to see? Gov. Deal, surrounded by business leaders, announcing that over the next 10 years we will raise the average level of educational attainment in every area of the state. More high school graduates. More two-year degrees. More four-year degrees. More master’s degrees. We will put as the top priority investment the one asset that can distinguish us — our people.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog