Assessing the damage to education by 2012 Legislature

Joe Martin

Joe Martin

With the General Assembly wrapping up last night in its usual frenzy, school financing expert Joseph Martin sent me this op-ed this morning.

(He sent two copies, one with footnotes and one without. I am not including the footnotes here, but Martin has provided documentation for his figures. He is ready for the AJC Truth-O-Meter.)

Martin has been a longtime voice for public education; he was president of the Atlanta Board of Education, a leader on several state commissions, head of the Georgia School Funding Association and an unsuccessful candidate for state School Superintendent. And he helped design the current Georgia funding formula, Quality Basic Education, which, of course, has never been fully funded.

He has been called upon many times to testify at the Capitol on school financing. I think it is fair to say that Martin, a Democrat, is respected by members of both parties for his expertise.

By Joseph Martin

The State of Georgia is undermining our public schools. This may seem like an exaggeration, but the facts are clear. So, what really happened during the last session of the General Assembly?

The most heated issue was a fight over who gets to authorize charter schools, but this is still a distraction from the larger story. Nothing was done to reverse the steady erosion of state support to our schools over the last decade.

The reduction in school days, the additional furlough days, the increases in class sizes, and the cuts in programs will grow worse in the upcoming school year, especially since local systems can no longer rely on rising property taxes to cover the deficits in state funding.

State allotments to local systems are 26% less on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis than they were ten years ago. Because of an unrealistic formula with another $1.1 billion in “austerity cuts,” a typical class is losing over $30,000 a year.

Some systems have been able to make up the difference from local resources, but most can’t. Moreover, the formula to assist the least wealthy systems in Georgia was quietly cut by 41% solely because “this is all we can afford.” The students in these systems will never catch up.

The State is systematically reducing its investment in our schools under the pretense that it doesn’t have enough funds, while the wave of tax cuts and exemptions never ceases. Our legislators cut taxes again this year without ever asking how the State will meet its obligations.

We are harming our children, sapping the vitality of our economy, and relegating our state to an inferior status. Three out of every ten students in Georgia are not graduating from high school with a regular diploma. Is this the path to a prosperous future?

It is essential to have capable teachers, effective leaders, active parents, and sound policies, but they do not replace the need for adequate resources. Georgia spends considerably less per student than the national average, and the only way to make further reductions is to decrease teacher salaries and increase class sizes. Administrative costs have already been slashed in most systems.

No sensible person would ever advocate spending more without expecting results, but it’s equally foolish to pretend that our schools can perform their vital mission without paying our teachers a reasonable salary, assisting the students who need extra help, and offering a full curriculum.

The concepts of “choice” and “flexibility” are touted as easy answers to the challenges facing our schools. Of course, parents should have more choices, and our schools should be freed from unnecessary regulations. But the real question is how to serve all of our students and not just some. Charter schools can be effective, but are not a substitute for improving all of our schools.

Some are calling for vouchers that would benefit the students who are accepted by private schools and can afford the tuition not covered by the voucher. Georgia taxpayers are already allowed to “divert” their tax payments to entities that support private schools, with no accountability or disclosure about who benefits.

Our state is slipping backward, and many of our children are not getting the education they need and deserve. Changes have to be made, but the need for adequate support by the State cannot be ignored. This is not a Democratic or Republican issue, nor is it an urban or rural issue. It is crucial to the future of our state. Do we really want good schools for our children?

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

57 comments Add your comment


March 30th, 2012
10:32 am

We need longer school days, longer school years, better pay for teachers in order to attract better candidates to the profession, the flexibility to get rid of bad teachers easily, more parental involvement, more teacher autonomy in the classroom, less focus on testing, and more of those central office funds/positions DIRECTLY supporting schools.

I know…I’m asking for a lot…but


March 30th, 2012
10:34 am

…but if we make the investments in education on the front end we won’t have to invest so much in prisons, social support services, etc. on the back end.

Stephen Fleming

March 30th, 2012
10:43 am

Last year, I proposed a “Grand Bargain” to fix our schools. Double teacher salaries, but dramatically change our expectations of what those doubled salaries will buy.

The whole argument won’t fit in this comment box, but here’s the link:

Please read the link before flaming. :-)

Ron F.

March 30th, 2012
10:52 am

I can hear it now…”he’s just another one of them despicable liberals who cries about everything.” No matter the facts, the politics keep enough anger ginned up that we can’t come together to see what the state is doing. Did we expect cuts during the recession? Yes, of course. A lot of those cuts could have been avoided if there had been better management during the big spending years. But sadly, all the state has done is impose “austerity cuts” for ten years straight. My system has a plan to get us through hopefully the next five years if the state stops cutting our budget. If they cut much more, we’re done. I just hope they fund all the new charter schools more fairly.


March 30th, 2012
11:13 am

QBE – is a joke. As created, the wealthier school districts are penalized & “equalization” grants/funding is sent from these districts to dump districts – aka Robin Hood.

Martin – president of the Atlanta Board of Education. Good to see he laid the groundwork for all the cheating going on in the APS.

“The students in these systems will never catch up.” Oh yes, the old tried & true liberal mantra of we need more money to make sure these kids catch up. This idiotic belief system works really well within the APS (which has the highest per stident spending in the state).

Sound like the clown is paving the way to run for office again – thanks AJC. I will make sure that he does not receive my vote – again.


March 30th, 2012
11:17 am

Stephen – pay teachers the same or more than engineers coming out of Tech???

(1) How about making their college major as tough as engineering pal?

(2) Where do you propose that additional money come from?


March 30th, 2012
11:27 am

Milton Man: I propose that a Tech engineer come and teach my second graders for a month. I think s/he would run screaming out in less than a day!


March 30th, 2012
11:29 am

But we put a lot of money into drug courts and tried to bailout developers. Now they can go home and brag about their acomplishments.


March 30th, 2012
11:31 am

catlady: I propose you go & do the work the engineer does while he/she does your job. You would be fired by the COB without any current due process granted to your fellow teachers within the APS.


March 30th, 2012
11:48 am

Oh sweet, I can’t install Comment Blocker on my work computer, so I have to read MiltonMan and catlady play this game:

Shut up, both of you, and don’t feed the trolls.

Ron F.

March 30th, 2012
11:54 am

MiltonMan: once again you pull the “if you were an engineer” card. As I’ve said many times, I get it. You have all the education and IQ, we teachers are flunkies who have an easy ride in college. Typically ill-informed view from someone who, if your education level afforded you any common sense, would realize the challenges of either profession are unique and thus cannot be fairly compared. I know for a fact that I could not be an engineer. Why then do you keep comparing the two? In as much as I couldn’t do your job, you wouldn’t be able to do mine for long either. Please spare us further mentioning of it.

Thanks also for proving my point. Any discussion of education for you guys on the far right comes down to your kind bashing the “liberal mantra”… not much different from any other “mantra” espoused by your side, if you ask me. Neither one is entirely right and neither entirely wrong. Until we can respect and allow both sides to exist, we’ll just keep tearing the system down. Seems to be what the general assembly wants anyway.


March 30th, 2012
12:01 pm

Catlady is the professional. I enjoy her comments. Milton Man is an angry troll who has no knowledge about what happens in schools. I scroll over his.


March 30th, 2012
12:11 pm

@Milton Man, just where are these “dump districts” of which you speak?

It's the Economy Stupid

March 30th, 2012
12:17 pm

Yes, the legislature has cut the school budget. They have to. It’s th eeconomy, stupid. Fewer jobs equal fewer tax dollars, which means less money for schools. I don’t blame the legislature for cutting the budget but I do blame APS for wasting money on cheating, lying teachers and adminstrators whose greedy paws were caught taking bonuses for lying, cheating and stealing. A million dollars a month to pay tgeachers to sit on their hands awaiting trial and for Heavy Bevvy’s legal bills. We pay to defend her for robbing us.
It’s rotten and it ain’t Denmark. It’s APS.


March 30th, 2012
12:28 pm

“Catlady is the professional. I enjoy her comments. Milton Man is an angry troll who has no knowledge about what happens in schools. I scroll over his.”

Yet you mention me, by name, in your post?

How cute!


March 30th, 2012
12:29 pm

“Shut up, both of you, and don’t feed the trolls.”

Nice. Practice what you preach clown.


March 30th, 2012
12:30 pm

Yeah, because more money poured into our schools over the last 15 years has done so much to improve the results….oh?? You mean the numbers don’t actually show it? Well we just need to pour MORE money in, and this time the results will be there.

What a joke. The biggest issue isn’t money. Obviously if it was, the results would have shown vast improvement as we pumped in the money.

Need to move on, “Educrats” (I don’t mean teachers, but rather the overhead that soaks up this money without contributing one thing to the effectiveness of the teacher in the classroom…in fact, actually takes away from their effectiveness because of the work they put on the teachers from their programs….the results of which are just used -abused- to justify their job and high salaries).

When my company went through a near death experience, and had to lay off all the folks who were overhead (not dealing with clients directly), the workload of those of us on the front lines dropped dramatically, while our effectiveness picked way up.


March 30th, 2012
12:34 pm

btw, my wife, who was a Tech engineer, went back and taught school after our kids got old enough to be in school. She was a very effective teacher, so yes, Catlady, it can be done (but you knew that).

She did leave, though, primarily due to the ridiculous de-incentives that are built into our school systems. Every 9 weeks, her classes expanded to the max with kids whose parents got them moved into her class, while the “awful” teachers workload went down due to these parents getting their kids pulled. But while her workload went up, her pay never did (of course…wouldn’t be “FAIR”). Eventually she just gave up and went into business, where being good is actually rewarded.

Until this is fixed, our schools will always lose good teachers, and be left with the bad ones. It’s only natural, given this perverse incentive system.


March 30th, 2012
12:34 pm

It’s not just the budget. Almost any time the state or federal government issues a mandate to “improve” the schools, that mandate will involve a lot of money and will lessen the quality of the educational experience for our students.


March 30th, 2012
12:39 pm

@Milton Man, just where are these “dump districts” of which you speak?

Actually, pretty simple to find – even the AJC has a link to the database:

Fulton County (even with the garbage schools in the southern part of the county: 80.5% paasing all subjects; Appling County – 57%

So put Appling County on the list

Called deductive reasoning (law of detachment) – give it a try

Being Censored by @Maureen

March 30th, 2012
12:52 pm

With all due respect, Mr. Martin, there has been FAR more damage done by this newspaper in distributing a research study about cheating that had materials flaws in its methodology!

Maybe this state is not slipping backward as Mr. Martin would lead you believe. But realistically, Georgia is finally taking the bold steps to innovate in education and gradually bring “the system” into the 21st century.


March 30th, 2012
12:54 pm

Sorry. “Passing all subjects” means nothing. All of my students will pass my course if I choose to give them passing grades. I prefer to make them earn passing grades, but not all teachers/administrators/departments/schools have that policy. I know. I’ve taught in some of those schools.


March 30th, 2012
1:12 pm

MiltonMan, what would you say to the TECH grads in Engineering, Math or Computer Science who graduated with good GPAs who became teachers. Someone has to teach those skills to the kids before they arrive.

Teachers, don’t teach strictly for money, though better pay would make the youth want to go into the profession along with the ability to actually teach the subjects the right way.

CS2007, North Atlanta Trade School.


March 30th, 2012
1:28 pm

Sorry. “Passing all subjects” means nothing. All of my students will pass my course if I choose to give them passing grades.

Means nothing??? That is based upon the graduation standard test in this state & not what the teachers grade. Are you telling me that in this one case (there are plenty, plenty others) that the high school seniors in Appling County are as good as those of Fulton County???

If so, you better alert UGA, GaTech, etc., that the students receiving Zell to the schools should not based simply on your analogy.

Even the left-wing nut Jason Carter complained that the “smart kids” in North Metro receive an unfair share of Zell.


March 30th, 2012
1:32 pm

“…though better pay would make the youth want to go into the profession along with the ability to actually teach the subjects the right way.”

Is that why droves of youth going into “better paying” fields – let’s not forgot the path that is takes to earn those wages?


March 30th, 2012
1:48 pm

@Milton Man. So sorry, I didn’t realize you were talking about the graduation exam. But, it must mean nothing, or nearly so, because the state has decided to do away with everything except the writing exam starting with the class of 2015. And, yes, many of the seniors in Appling County are as good as, or better than, the seniors in other counties, including Fulton.


March 30th, 2012
1:50 pm

It is not the governor of Georgia’s fault when the Fed government bankrupts the country and brings us to the brink of a depression. State law says we have to balance the budget every year and that is the only thing keeping Georgia’s debt from being like the Fed government’s debt. Practically everything either been frozen or reduced in size. Quit your blame game and put it where it belongs with the administration in D.C.

It's both regimes in DC, not Democrats

March 30th, 2012
2:00 pm

Hey Oblama,
The disaster that is the US economy happened because of Wall Street banksters and they were allowed to steal because they were unregulated or barely regulated. The deregulation happened under both the Democratic and the Republican regimes in D.C., Bush and Clinton.

To BlackMale Teacher

March 30th, 2012
2:02 pm

There is a BIG difference between a teacher and a professor.


March 30th, 2012
2:07 pm

Here you go – mathmom yet another fact that will chaf you – and another yet again from the AJC:

Please note the number of Fulton County schools; number of Appling County schools = 0

Go ahead & come up with another lame excuse like the ACT/SAT test is not a true measure of the students ability. If you truly are into math like your screen name proclaims your are – I would guess that you would enjoy facts as opposed to commentary only. I was wrong.


March 30th, 2012
2:10 pm

Please remind me again how “great” education was in this state when the democrats were in control for 130+ years. Even the darling of the democrats in this state – ‘ole Zell Miller himself has bolted the party.

I do not recall Georgia being in the top-10 of much of anything during those “golden years”.


March 30th, 2012
2:14 pm

BlackMaleTeacher – it is “North Avenue Trade School” not “North Atlanta.” Georgia Tech is in the center of the city, not north.


Mikey D

March 30th, 2012
2:22 pm

And the beat goes on…
As long as idealogical hacks on BOTH sides continue shouting “It’s all the libs/neocons fault!!!”, then we won’t ever be able to make progress. It sure would be nice to have things so clearly spelled out in black and white the way they are in MiltonMan’s world, but I prefer living in reality, where issues are complex and problems must be solved by reasonable adults, rather than by children who resort to name calling. Unfortunately, reasonable adults seem to be in short supply under the gold dome.


March 30th, 2012
2:35 pm

@Milton Man. You said, ” based upon the graduation standard test in this state & not what the teachers grade. Are you telling me that in this one case (there are plenty, plenty others) that the high school seniors in Appling County are as good as those of Fulton County???” That implies something about the graduation test scores, but then you switched gears and cited a link to a story about ACT scores. We don’t know, from this article, that anyone in Appling County took the ACT. You are correct that the SAT is designed to evaluate ability – and, theoretically, the county of your residence does not affect your ability. The ACT is an achievement-based test. But, in a larger context, what do you mean by “as good as?”

Just A Teacher

March 30th, 2012
2:49 pm

“There is a BIG difference between a teacher and a professor.”

I have done both jobs, and I think teaching in a public high school is far more challenging. As a professor, I never had to deal with unruly students. I had 3 students carrying on a conversation in the back of the lecture hall once, but I just threw them out. I also never had to deal with parents who were angry over their offspring’s grades. If a college student has an issue with a professor’s grading, that is between the two of them. Finally, college students are simply more motivated to learn. Whether that is because they realize they (or their parents) are actually writing a check for their tuition or because they were among the best students in their high school classes, I can’t begin to guess, but they are much more motivated.

As I have stated before, I am a veteran teacher and have seen the damage done by these “austerity cuts” in funding for Georgia’s public schools. It doesn’t take a genius to know that larger classes mean less individual time with each student and therefore less instructional impact by the teacher. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that more people are attracted to higher paying jobs than lower paying ones.

I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent man, so I struggle for an answer when people ask why I teach in a public school. I guess the reason is that I care about kids and don’t want them to grow up to be ignorant fools who cannot think for themselves. In other words, I hope I’m not teaching the next group of Georgia legislators, and, if I am, I hope they will be able to undo the damage done by those who have been there for the past decade or so.


March 30th, 2012
3:06 pm

Maureen, had to laugh concerning your statement “Our state is slipping backward”, when has it not ever going in any direction other than BASSACKWARDS. :) The Leadership of Georgia has Always been a cess pool of backward thinking politicians since its very inception. Even a previous Governor Lester Maddox rode his bicyle around the state capital BACKWARDS!

However, this November The Republican Party has an Invasive Ultrasound scheduled. Maybe while this procedure is being performed by the WOMEN of Georgia while holding a ASPIRIN between their knees will help them see the light a little better.

More Charter schools nor Vouchers is “NOT” the direction that is needed for “ALL” of the children of Georgia. Those two plans will amount only to marginal successes. We all must come together and first decide if we “TRULY” want a quality Education system for “ALL” the children of Georgia. If we are to support the advocates for selective use of our education funds so that a select few of the Georgia students are in entitled to a quality education it will only worsen. The real issue here comes down to one word “RACE”. until we are truly willing to deal with that issue honestly and truthfully, all of this UNILATERAL FAILURE TO EDUCATE “ALL” of the children of Georgia will continue as it has been in Georgia throughout its SAD and BACKWARDS history. “BACKWARDS” should have been the state of georgia’s MOTTO for that is how most things operate here. just take a gander at a few of the comments here and you will see how prevalent it is. Some students in GEORGIA are more EQUAL than others, always has been. change that and you will see better results, period.

Maureen Downey

March 30th, 2012
3:13 pm

@Bernie, That’s Mr. Martin’s statement — that piece is by Joe Martin.


March 30th, 2012
3:16 pm

Thanks for the correction.

Trolls Bane

March 30th, 2012
3:48 pm

News Flash : the wealthy elite, who send thier kids to private school for quality education, want and seek to maintain their control over society. One technique for accomplishing this goal, is the dumbing down of the remainder of the population …. a dumb & ignorant population is easier to control and maninpulate.


March 30th, 2012
3:49 pm

Another legislative session gone by, and once again, the GOP does absolutely nothing for its citizens. fruitless legislation passed or introduced that panders to the religious, gun, and business sects, but no legislation passed to improve schools, jobs, infrastructure. If the GOP would stop the obsessed with abortion, guns, etc, then things may improve. The GOP has controlled this state for over 10 years. Regarding the health care issue, if the GOP says that the government mandate to purchase insurance, a private product is not right, then why are they not fighting against big auto insurance companies that force me to buy their private product to drive a car, or face a penalty for not having car insurance? What is the difference? In order to register a car and drive legally in Georgia, one must purchase auto insurance? I say if the govt cannot make us by health care, then screw it, no forcing of any insurance upon us.

Ole Guy

March 30th, 2012
4:24 pm

A discusion on the damage to education is, indeed, well overdue. However, focus should also be directed to the broad scope issue of damage to this Great Nation; the global eminence once enjoyed by a Country whose industrial base was second to none. Turning out an educated work force goes far far beyond simply supplying qualified workers to man the machinery of progress…an educated populace (and ONLY an educated populace) can embrace life for all it’s worth…the good, bad, and (you guessed it) the ugly.

Life ain’t Utopia…not s’pose ta be. But we can still continue to grow, both as individuals and as a peoples…ONLY, repeat ONLY if we can continue to educate the younger…and the not-so-young…generations.

Can we ever dare to trust our leaders to keep their eyes on the ball; to focus on the “big ticket” issues?

Garry Owen

March 30th, 2012
4:41 pm

As a retired educator I am appalled by the actions of both the Democrats and the Republicans. APEG was never fully funded, QBE is not fully funded. In the past years deep cuts have been made to public education due to the economy and local school systems are forced to pick up the difference through increased taxes. In my county, a land rich, people income poor, the local board of education does not see part of the states finical obligation due to transfer of money to “less wealthy” school systems. Under QBE students could not be forced to pay a fee that was a part of the educational program. Some charter schools that may receive state money are for profit schools. As for profit schools do they charge the students and parents to attend school for an education? If so is this a violation of the QBE act? Also, Gainesville City High School will lose funds as a transition school after all the work teachers and administrators have put into this program. This is also true for systems that were planning to use the money for the same purpose. Something stinks in Denmark!


March 30th, 2012
5:27 pm

Did not the voters of this state say loud and clear that they do not like Joe Martin’s educational leadership ideas?

Why is this blog still attempting to make him look like a educational leader in this state?


March 30th, 2012
5:44 pm

Dr. Barge: 54%
Joe Martin: 41%
Willis: 5%

Ideas about education soundly defeated.


March 30th, 2012
5:50 pm

Is Miltonman from Milton; the representative from Milton stated that Georgia teachers are the highest paid in the US.
What has happened to the rest of the Georgia lottery money? Education gets 30%.


March 30th, 2012
5:51 pm

Wow Milton Man, you seem unhappy! Some teachers have master’s and doctorate degrees. Being an engineer, I ASSUME you can add 2 years for a master’s and four years for most doctorate degrees to see that some teachers went to school six years longer than you did. I also assume you have gotten a raise in the past five years! And if you get your doctorate, come back and tell me it wasn’t more demanding than an engineering degree if you go to a good school. Dr. K Teacher

Michelle-Middle School

March 30th, 2012
6:13 pm

I am retiring this year. Why? Because the State of Georgia has absolutely no interest in the future of its children. The legislators will do anything that will give them the spotlight, and many have absolutely NO idea how a teacher is capable of teaching children. The great teacher, and there are many of them, works at least 50 to 60 hours per week, minimum, to make sure their students learn. Teachers in Georgia have not received a raise or a step increase in over 5 years, have lost pay due to furloughs for the past four years, class sizes in middle school have increased at least by 20 percent, many teachers are often required to teqch additional non-curricular classes without more compensation, all teachers are required to work additional hours outside the class day to support extracurricular activities and sports. You can add in chorus, band, strings, guitar, and theater performances as well as social events. Oh, and I must not forget grading papers in the evenings and sometimes all weekend. The bottom line is “Teachers are Overworked and

The only appreciation a teacher gets is cut funding, furlough days and disrespect from our legislature and the Governor. Georgia needs to step up to the plate and start funding education at a realistic level. Inaction in this area will continue to run out those the system needs the most, the experienced teachers. Don’t tell me I should be glad I still have a job. What I really wanted was respect.


March 30th, 2012
6:42 pm

We’re 49th in per capita taxes and we cut them further (Alaska actually pays its citizens and is 50th). We also have teachers accepting jobs overseas so they can be paid better than in this state. Argue all you want. The fact is the state’s students are suffering and our legislature is ignoring the problem and trying to divert tax money to their own purposes.

I also find it interesting to read from an engineer disparaging comments about education and teachers. Most engineers understand that we need an educated middle class for our country to be successful. Robbing our children of an education is robbing our country of its future.

Atlanta Mom

March 30th, 2012
6:49 pm

Milton Man
You are wrong wrong wrong. You state: APS (which has the highest per stident spending in the state).
Have you checked out the tuition for all those private schools in Buckhead? It costs $20,000 a year to education those poor unfortunates. Not even close to what Atlanta spends. And those private school aren’t educating SWD, don’t you know.

William Casey

March 30th, 2012
8:20 pm

@MiltonMan: It’s interesting. My Dad was Chief Industrial Engineer for a major corporation’s plant here in Atlanta, Brown & GT educated with WWII in between. I never heard him denigrate teachers the way you do. I don’t think it was because his son was a teacher/coach/administrator. Maybe it’s because I.E. isn’t as high status as E.E. or maybe…..