Summit: Economics impacting education

By Greg Gelpi

When officials met for Education Summit 2005, money, and the lack of money, took center stage.

Representatives from the Clayton County, Henry County, DeKalb County and Atlanta City school systems hosted a panel of government officials, including Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, to address issues facing education with the community.

With the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which many call an unfunded mandate, and decreasing state funds coming into local systems, economics is never left off the agenda during discussions on education.

Cox, who laughed that she is often mistaken for State Superintendent of Education Kathy Cox, said education is important for the state and the state's economy.

"Education effects everything we do in Georgia," she said. "The more we invest in education helps the state's economic development. Every dollar we pay in education pays dividends."

But, the money hasn't been invested in education, Taylor said.

"I feel very, very strongly about the issue of education," he said, adding that the issue often divides Georgians.

It was a "major disappointment" of the General Assembly to increase, again, the number of students allowed in classrooms, and the state's Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship is "under attack," Taylor said.

"You're paying for thousands of school teachers who aren't teaching in Georgia, but this has been an area of disagreement," he said, speaking about funding based on classroom size.

The General Assembly just passed the largest budget in state history, but it wasn't a record year for education funding, Taylor said.

At the federal level, No Child Left Behind continues to be underfunded as well, said Chandra Harris, deputy press secretary for U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta.

If the fiscal year 2006 budget is approved, No Child Left Behind will have been "short-changed" a total of $39 billion since its 2002 passing, Harris said.

This state alone will be short almost $300 million if that budget is approved, she said

The summit was the third annual meeting of the four school systems and was hosted by Clayton County this year. The event was held at Mundy's Mill High School Saturday.

State Rep. Darryl Jordan, D-Riverdale, serves on the General Assembly's House Education Committee and helped start the summit.

"I can't think of any other place I'd rather be than here, because we're doing something for our greatest resource," Jordan said. "I'm typically a man of few words, but when it comes to education, I'm ready to talk."

He called it a "unique opportunity" bringing together local, state and federal officials, as well as educators, parents and members of the community.