Georgia law requires the legislature to approve a balanced budget, which I believe is very wise. In these difficult economic times, I do not envy the task they [state legislators] have before them. But, just as we should not saddle the next generation with our debt, we also should not take away the opportunity for our children to receive an education that prepares them for their 21st Century world. We are fortunate to have some of the best teachers and school leaders in the nation (Georgia has had a National Principal of the Year for three years in a row). They have been laser-focused on their mission of improving student achievement, and I am proud to see so much progress being made.
But, I maintain that drastic and severe cuts hurt teachers and students, and negatively impact our progress. If there are further cuts to school system funding, then we can't expect things to be business as usual. While I fully recognize the severity of our revenue shortfall, I am not in favor of additional cuts to public K-12 education.
Recently, the House and Senate asked that we discuss budget options, if revenues were less than the governor's original FY11 budget submission. When looking at such a bleak scenario, we told members of the General Assembly that it is unrealistic to think that you can truly retain 180 days of quality instruction for students, if all ten days of pre-and post-planning for teachers are cut.
Expecting teachers to begin and end a school year on the same day students do is like a restaurant manager asking staff members to show up at the same time the first customer is to be served. That manager knows that if dinner service starts at 5 p.m., you'd better be willing to pay your chef to come in for preparation a few hours earlier. And when have you ever seen the staff leave the restaurant at the same time as the last customer? That restaurant would not be successful. Similarly, teachers need preparation time to be successful.
Do I want to cut the number of instructional days for students? Of course not. But, as a former classroom teacher, I know that we must provide teachers time to prepare, so they can give our students their very best.
Our kids deserve it! I appreciate the diligence of the legislators and the seriousness of their exploration of all the issues and all the options. I am hopeful that the legislature will prioritize this budget to fund one of our primary constitutional obligations -- educating Georgia's K-12 students. Providing for our students now is an investment in our state's current and future success. If we want to continue making progress, then, we must be willing to invest in Georgia's greatest resource -- our children.
Kathy Cox, a parent and a veteran classroom teacher, is Georgia's Superintendent of Schools.