Moral Monday Activists Protest Education Cuts, Privatization
(APN) ATLANTA — The fifth Georgia Moral Monday Movement Day at the Georgia State Capitol exposed what they described as the robbing of public education in Georgia. Over 7.6 billion dollars has been cut from the education budget over the last ten years. The cuts in Quality Basic Education (QBE) started in 2003 and have continued for thirteen years. The damage that has been done to public schools will remain for years.
Current state legislation concerning charter schools [the Parent Trigger bill] and the creation of new school districts, if passed, would heighten educational inequality in Georgia.
Quality education for all children will require restoration of previous cuts and directing more resources toward the education of children living in poverty.
“Why do we have furloughs of teachers, why do we have to cut our class days down from 180 to 120 days? It is because of the cut. Because of the cuts, teachers have been forced to spend their own money on school supplies and students have been pushed to succeeding [sic] on standardized tests. The No Child Left Behind Act has left our children behind,” State Senator Donzella James (D-Atlanta), member of Senate Education Committee, said.
“They want to take money from the public money and put it in the private schools, even if they’ve got to call it charter schools. One size does not fix all, I admit, but we already have magnet programs, we already had choices. So why are we taking away from the already declining budget, to continue this nightmare, that is hurting our children? We need to pay our teachers and give them a raise: a real raise; and not change insurance that will make you have to pay even more,” Sen. James said.
“We voted for the lottery, so we could have money dedicated to education. We need to get an accountant to look at that money. Let’s put the [lottery] money back in education,” Sen. James said.
Former President George W. Bush’s 2001 education reform act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has created a new industry in standardized testing, funded exclusively with public money.
The NCLB mandate for standardized tests requires the nation’s public schools to administer some 50 million tests annually, costing 700 million dollars a year, most of that money going to corporations that create and publish the tests and score the results, according to a 2011 Miami Herald article.
One of the companies that has profited from NCLB is Ignite, Inc, owned by Neil Bush, former President Bush’s brother. They sell curriculum on wheels, which prepares students to take the comprehensive tests required under NCLB. Some U.S. school districts have used federal funds to buy Ignite’s portable learning centers at 3,800 dollars a piece..
“We have pages and pages of bills and resolutions that chip away from public education… brought about by people who have no background in education. You can’t fix seven billion dollars [taken away from public education] with 315 million dollars, and say, ‘I’m the education Governor and I’m the education party.’ Something is wrong under the Gold Dome,” Sid Chapman, President of the Clayton County Educators Association, said.
“There were 1.1 billion dollar cuts last year in this Governor’s budget. When they start talking about giving a raise to the education budget this year, we know what they are doing. It’s a sham and a shame. We will not be fooled. What they are doing is a one percent increase to the personal services line for every school system in the state,” State Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) said.
“80 percent of the school districts in this state have furlough days, 72 percent have limited days from the school year, 33 percent have cut electives at the high school level, and over 35 percent have cut parts of the early intervention program. We have an entire generation of children who don’t know what it’s like to go to a school that is fully funded,” Lisa Morgan, Organization of DeKalb Educators, said.
“For several years we have focused on ending the school to prison pipeline. Which is due, in part, to the zero tolerance policy and the disproportionate application of student suspensions. I see an us versus them mentality that has permeated the public school system, from divisive legislation to school closures. What I see now is an erosion of the public school system from the outside in, from external parties that seek profits before people,” Pamela Perkins Carn, Interfaith Children’s Movement, explained.
“It breaks my heart to see eleven and twelve year olds arrested at school, knowing that this increased the risk of their becoming products of the criminal justice system. It disturbs me when I discovered that, during one school year, some five thousand kindergartners were suspended from school. It is not a source of pride for me to know that my state ranks ninth in the nation in out of school suspensions,” Carn said.
As reported earlier in APN, according to a 2011 NAACP report, spending by states on prisons has increased at a rate six times higher than that of spending on higher education. This amount is over 50 billion dollars annually, according to a 2009 report by the Pew Center on the States.
According to research gathered from the U.S. Department of Justice, Georgia lawmakers spend almost eighteen thousand dollars a year to house one inmate in a state prison.
“We are appealing to politicians and to public to forgo personal agendas and do what is right for public education. What is not right is to create a caste-like system in public education. I am likening the charter school system to a caste-like system in its current practices. Currently, most charter schools have a way of not accepting and not retaining students in their charter schools based upon whatever they deem is undesirable or desirable. You are taking public funds and giving them to a private-like institution,” Ramon Reeves, President, Atlanta Association of Educators, said.
“In case you have not noticed, our state government is dominated by relatively comfortable and wealthy, suburban and rural White people, mostly men. However well meaning, they don’t know much about the lives of our students and families. They don’t recognize the role that privilege has played in their own families lives. They assume that students who are failing just haven’t tried hard enough and they need more structure rather than more resources and a healthier physical environment,” Cita Cook, retired from the University of West Georgia, told the audience.