0

Educators to rally at State Capitol

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Educators from around the state plan to assemble, once again, in Atlanta to oppose continued school funding cuts.

The Georgia Federation of Teachers, the state affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, has planned "A Call to Action Rally" at the State Capitol today (Saturday), from 12 to 2 p.m.

The teachers' union has invited teachers, state lawmakers, faith leaders, parents, and labor activists to take part in the protest, according to Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner.

Today's rally is expected to draw as many as 400 supporters, Turner said. It is scheduled to include an address by Joe Martin, of the Georgia School Funding Association, and other prominent education figures in the state.

"The objectives of the rally are to call attention to the state of public education in Georgia [and] appeal to legislators to ... end teacher furloughs, and to fully fund Georgia's public schools," Turner said.

The Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) was also invited to take part in the rally, Turner said. The association, a 40,000-member organization for public-education professionals, hosted a similar rally at the Capitol last month.

"While Georgia has been grossly under-funding public schools, it also has been imposing unfunded mandates on them," Turner said. "Yet, the student population, including children with special needs, has grown tremendously."

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced last month the state's K-12 public school systems would face an additional three furlough days, a savings measure designed to help make up for state-level revenue shortfalls. School systems faced similar cuts last fall.

"The frustrating thing is that some of the counties found a way not to take furloughs," said Sid Chapman, president of the Clayton County Education Association.

Chapman said, however, a promise of no furlough days has not been guaranteed due to an ever-changing financial landscape at the state and local levels.

"We're just in a tough time financially," he said.

Chapman, who is also a GAE member, said he believes there may be other ways of making up for revenue shortfalls that do not cost teachers three days' pay.

"GAE has offered a solution of raising sales tax by one-half cents," Chapman said. "And we're not gaining as much success with that as we would like with legislators. I think the legislature, and the local boards, need to be very careful. We need to prioritize what's important. If you fail to invest today, you'll pay tomorrow."

State Rep. Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur), a member of the House education committee, agreed there should be other ways to make up for revenue losses at the state level.

"I think it's unfortunate the governor is asking our teachers to take furlough days," Mayo said. "I think the teacher-furlough days could have been avoided. I believe they should be the last state employees to take pay cuts. We can ill afford any further cuts."

"All throughout the state budget, there are constituencies that want to see their programs fully funded," said Perdue Spokesman Bert Brantley. "The most important thing for people to understand is that we've held education to much lower cuts than everything else in the budget. We're doing everything we can to place a priority on education."

Henry County teacher, Theodosia Strange, said teachers have been shouldering this year's pay cuts to serve the greater good.

"If that's what we have to resort to in order to keep a job, that's what we have to resort to," said Strange, who is also the president of the Henry County Association of Educators. "I think legislators need to actually hear educators that are concerned about their jobs, to keep teachers and educators in education."