ATLANTA -- “As Georgia moves forward from a very challenging school year, GAE is hopeful our schools are able to not only welcome all of their students back, but also institute the full range of classes, curricula, and activities for students to take advantage of and once again thrive,” said Lisa Morgan, kindergarten teacher and president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). “And during this new school year and into next year’s General Assembly, GAE has key concerns and priorities we feel must be addressed in order for our schools and students to do so.”
Morgan says that includes GAE’s top three priorities which are the distribution and use of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds, the removal of the system of harmful waivers brought about under the Strategic Waiver School Systems (SWSS) and Charter System policies and ensuring Gov. Kemp completes his promise of a $5,000 raise for the state’s teachers.
“The ARP includes $3.8 billion in funding for Georgia’s K-12 education of which local districts are to receive 90 percent,” said Morgan. “These much needed funds could be used to eliminate furloughs; continue free meals for students; provide reliable internet, laptops and other technology; and add more counselors and social workers to schools and more.”
Morgan emphasizes that a key requirement of the ARP funds is for our state Department of Education (DOE) and local school districts to meet with educators and their representative organizations such as GAE and its members locally throughout the state. “GAE already has taken the initiative to meet with the Georgia DOE and we’ve submitted written comments from our members. We have activated our members locally to ensure they have contact and a say in how their local funding is being applied,” she said.
GAE is the only organization calling attention to the unintended consequences of school system waivers on students, parents, and educators. In 2015 a law was passed that allowed schools system that converted to either a Strategic Waiver School Systems (SWSS) and/or Charter System, to be exempt from virtually any state law, rule, or regulation which Morgan says should have been a red flag from the beginning. “GAE fought the passage of that law which we feel has become detrimental and problematic. We are actively highlighting the issue with the GA DOE and Governor’s office,” said Morgan.
She cites an example of 132 (out of 132) SWSS systems have waived class size and reporting requirements. “This has led to larger classes that study after study has shown is not conducive to providing the best teaching and learning environment for our children. This law allows systems to do this with impunity (no reporting) and with no input from educators or parents. Other standards that can be waived include health classes and PE, fair dismissal for educators, ESOL, and duty-free lunch – all important elements for a healthy school environment,” Morgan stressed.
GAE has sponsored legislation (HB 518) to eliminate these waivers.
Georgia’s state Constitution mandates public education as its top priority. Yet so many of our schools have been under-funded, and personnel under-salaried, for too many years. Georgia’s teacher salaries especially have borne the brunt of countless cost cutting measures. Two years ago, Gov. Brian Kemp promised classroom teachers $5,000 raises, to be directly applied to the state salary schedule. To date, $3,000 of this promise has been realized.
“GAE consistently advocates for raises for both teachers and educational support professionals (ESPs),” said Morgan. “Through our grassroots engagement, GAE members are building critical relationships with our elected representatives to improve the state salary schedule and ensure the final promised $2,000 becomes a reality next year.”