Georgia Governor Seeks $1 Billion for Education-Reform Program
Pledging to make this "the year for education" in Georgia, Gov. Joe Frank Harris last week asked lawmakers to approve $1 billion in new funds for an ambitious, three-year "Quality Basic Education" program.
In an address that was the first ever made by a Georgia governor before the legislature specifically on education, Governor Harris cited substantial teacher-salary increases and a mandatory all-day kindergarten system as central components of his plan.
The program stems from the recommendations made by the Governor's Education Review Commission, which has been studying public education since June 1983. The Governor said he intended to push the entire package through the legislature--and the state board of education--without a tax increase.
The Governor has not yet made public his budget for fiscal 1986. In fiscal 1985, precollegiate education was allocated $1.6 billion of a $4.3-billion state budget.
Goal of Excellence
"Today marks the beginning of the end of education as we have known it in the past," the Governor said. "For too many years, we have let 'minimum' or 'adequate' be our standards. But after today, we will accept nothing less than 'quality' as our standard and 'excellence' as our goal."
"We are going to implement new requirements at every level of the system--from students to teachers to administrators to schools and systems themselves," he continued. "We are going to monitor performance rigorously, we are going to reward outstanding performance and achievement, and we are going to demand accountability in return."
The Governor asked for $134 million in salary increases for public-school teachers and other personnel for the 1985-86 school year, which would provide an average salary increase of over 10 percent, raising the average teacher's salary to more than $24,000.
The Governor's program also calls for the implementation of a new salary schedule for teachers. Under the proposal, beginning teachers' salaries would be increased 11.7 percent to $16,000.
"This is the single most important recommendation I am making directed at recruiting the best students to the field of education," Governor Harris told lawmakers.
The current salary schedule gives teachers a yearly 2.5-percent increase against the salary index of beginning teachers. The new schedule, Governor Harris said, would provide a compounding element by computing the 2.5-percent increase against the previous year's salary.
The Governor also recommended that the state institute a career-ladder system for teachers.
In requesting funding for mandatory full-day kindergarten programs in each of Georgia's 187 school districts, Governor Harris cited research indicating that the early-childhood period is "most critical" in determining a child's later growth, development, and learning potential.
To prepare for such a program, the Governor requested $27 million to hire 1,792 teachers and 1,792 aides for the expanded classroom load, and $8 million to meet additional classroom and equipment requirements.
"Because it is not required that all children attend kindergarten, our 1st graders start school with varying degrees of readiness," he said. "We have been guaranteeing the need for remedial education for some students throughout their educational career."
The proposed program would provide four and a half hours of instruction per day with the rest of the day spent on recreation and rest.
Other elements of the Governor's basic-education program include:
Writing tests for students in grades 6 and 8 and kindergarten-assessment programs;
Training programs for local school-board members to "sharpen the focus on the role of vocational education and strengthen its base";
$1.4 million for the state's first educational-technology program, which would provide for local school districts $1 million in three-for-one matching grants for computer-el5lequipment purchases;
$250,000 for scholarships for 250 of the state's top high-school graduates who choose to attend a state college;
$94.2 million in construction funds to build and equip school buildings;
$7.2 million to construct or provide additions to 15 public libraries; and
Additional funds for higher education and research and development efforts.
"For the first time, our education appropriations are being made in tandem with new and higher goals, new and higher levels of expectation, and with the new education byword--accountability," the Governor said.