Appropriations hearings continue today

By Michael Davis

Saying the state's high school graduation test scores in science have a direct correlation to the abysmal graduation rate, School Superintendent Kathy Cox on Tuesday asked state law makers to help expand an online science testing resource.

"I believe we are literally hemorrhaging with this issue of science graduation tests," Cox said.

Her remarks came during the first day of combined state Senate and House of Representatives appropriations committee hearings. Lawmakers on the state's budget writing committee will continue hearing testimony today from other state agencies.

Lawmakers on the joint appropriations committee were under a tight schedule Tuesday, cramming testimony from four agency heads into the day. They are scheduled to hear the budget needs of 12 more agencies today, including the Department of Transportation, the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

A process that once took up several days has been condensed into two.

"We're going to fund everything we can fund and do the best that we can - this budget is the most encouraging one in two or three years," said state Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, a new member of the House appropriations committee.

In Gov. Sonny Perdue's remarks before the hearing, he said lawmakers should think of funding education as more of an investment than as an expenditure.

"The good news is that we don't have the pain we've had over the last two years when we've seen declining revenue. We have been blessed with growth this year," Perdue said.

During her allotted time before the legislators, and citing figures prepared by her office, Cox said that Georgia's 63 percent graduation rate is directly related to the failure rate on the science portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test. Cox said the rate of students failing the science portion of the test is almost 10 times that of the rate of students failing the next most-failed category, the social studies portion.

"So bottom line - if we can improve science performance on the high school graduation test, guess what we're going to do? We're going to have more kids graduate in the state of Georgia - bottom line. And that's what's reflected in this budget before you," Cox said.

Cox's plan would expand the Online Item Bank, a bank of practice test questions already in use for Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests since 2002, with money from the amended fiscal year 2005 budget. The amended budget covers the time until the beginning of the fiscal year 2006 budget in July.

In his remarks before the committee, state Revenue Commissioner Bart Graham said initiatives to collect back taxes have netted the agency some $103 million in uncollected taxes last year. He said the agency needs an appropriation of about $90 million to operate in the coming year.

Perdue's proposed budget, released last week, projects a 6.2 percent increase in tax collections in fiscal 2006 but warns of increased demand in state services.