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Governor's teacher gift card program eliminated

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

When teachers go to purchase back-to-school supplies this fall, they will have to do it without the $100 gift cards they have grown accustomed to over the past few years.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's $100 Teacher Gift Card Program, according to Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley, was rejected by the state Legislature this year in the interest of budgetary reductions made necessary by the state's declining revenues.

Brantley said Perdue had requested $11.5 million this year to continue the program through the 2009-10 school year. The program, which provides full-time teachers $100 gift cards in order to purchase school supplies, was not included in the state's $18.6 billion budget for fiscal year 2010.

"I think the governor believes in the policy behind [the program]," Brantley explained. "He thinks the teachers appreciate it. The governor had gotten so much positive feedback from the teachers. Sometimes teachers spend way more than a hundred dollars outfitting their classrooms with supplies."

Brantley said the current year's budget, for fiscal 2009, has gone through four different revisions which include nearly $3 billion in cuts, from $21.4 billion set last summer.

The state's fiscal 2010 budget includes more than $8 billion devoted to K-12 education.

State funding cuts have trickled down to local school systems like Henry County Schools, according to Jeff Allie, Henry's assistant superintendent of finance.

Allie said the school system's operating budget will be significantly less in 2009-10 than was set for the 2008-09 school year - less by about $9.7 million.

He said he expects Henry's budget will be set at $317 million for fiscal 2010. The state, he added, will pay about 41 percent of that budget, or about $174 million. Some $131 million will be paid locally.

Likewise, Allie said, most school supply costs will be reverted back to individual schools or teachers.

Virgil Cole, principal at East Lake Elementary School, plans to help teachers offset the cost of school supplies once supplemented by the governor's gift card program.

"I knew that would be a burden for our teachers," Cole said of learning about the program's elimination this year. "[The program] is very important, but I think teachers understand that we're in a down economy."

He said he has allotted $100 more to teachers out of the school's budget for the upcoming school year. He said he hopes to help offset school supply expenses for parents as well by working with the school's leadership team to decrease the number of required school supplies on the school's supply lists.

"We've tried to actually make it smaller," Cole continued. "I told the school, we would buy one supply per grade-level."

Cole said he believes the purchases should help reduce the cost parents must pay for back-to-school supplies.

He said he planned to make up the two expenses - adding the $100 for classroom supplies and purchasing supplies - by asking teachers and staff to cut back in other areas, including fewer field trips and supplies for the custodial, media center, and front office staff.

"I think we all hope that the economic recovery begins soon, and we start to see improving in the budget situation," said Brantley, the governor's spokesman.