Over the last twenty-five years our County has seen explosive growth, with our population multiplying close to five times in that time frame. Our population growth has partly been a product of our close proximity to Atlanta and the airport, however, the quality of life in our community is what has brought most of the decent and caring families that have moved here over the last quarter century and now call Fayette County home. One of the cornerstones of our high quality of life in this community is our outstanding public schools. Thousands of parents have elected to raise their children here because we have had some of the best schools in the state for many, many years. While other counties around Atlanta have not dealt with the growth well and have seen a significant degradation in their children’s educational opportunities, our schools have continued to thrive and remain among the best in Georgia. This is because we have had and continue to have active and involved parents, conscientious school officials and hard working and talented teachers and administrators. However, we must all do our part to ensure our children continue to have the best schools in the state now and in the years to come.
My charge in the State House is to work with my colleagues to enact legislation that will benefit our schools and prevent the enactment of legislation that would do our schools harm. This session of the General Assembly was very good for education in Georgia and, in turn, good for schools in Fayette County. Much of our focus locally this session was on legislation dealing with Clayton County’s potential loss of accreditation. Like all citizens in Fayette County, I was extremely concerned when I learned an amendment was added to Senate Bill 458 during the Senate’s floor debate on the measure that could have potentially forced our schools to accept students from failing school systems. When this legislation arrived in the House, our effort to remove the amendment that was added in the Senate was successful, ensuring Fayette County would never be forced to accept students from failing schools. Even after the most offensive provision of the bill was stripped out in committee, the legislation simply had too many problems and thankfully died without ever even receiving a vote on the floor in the House of Representatives. I am proud to have been one of the leaders in defeating this legislation that would have jeopardized the quality of our schools.
Lost in the furor over SB 458 were some important pieces of legislation that will be of great benefit to Georgia’s and Fayette County’s schools. This session, the General Assembly enacted legislation resulting from the Governor’s IE2 initiative. One of the most frequent criticisms I hear from our school officials is the overwhelming number of mandates in federal and state law. Title 20 of the Georgia Code is a laundry list of education rules and regulations that must be followed by every school in the state. This is classic one-size-fits-all government and often leaves our school officials in straight jackets when they attempt to try anything new or creative in educating our youth. What is right or works for Fayette County, will not necessarily work in another area of the state. House Bill 1209 will give school systems the ability to hold public hearings, and in collaboration with parents, develop a strategic plan to opt out of some of these onerous bureaucratic rules and regulations. The school systems will then enter into a contract with the state and in exchange for the enhanced flexibility, will accept additional accountability measures in the event the system fails to meet the goals of their strategic plan. It should be also noted, that participation is 100% optional and systems can continue operating under the current system of rules and regulations if they determine it is working for their community. I strongly believe our teachers and school officials should be able to focus 100% of their efforts on educating our youth, rather than on jumping through government red tape and bureaucratic hurdles and this legislation is an important first step in accomplishing that goal.
This year the General Assembly again passed a balanced budget, as is required by our state constitution. At around the mid-point of the session the Governor announced that state revenues were less than initially projected, which made the job of budget writers more difficult. However, I am very pleased to report that education was given the priority it deserves in the budget process and both the amended 2008 budget and the full 2009 budget provided important funding our state’s educational system. The budget includes over $100 million in new education funding, including restoration of $50 million of previous years’ austerity cuts. The budget also includes full funding of the Governor’s recommended pay raise for our hard working teachers in Georgia.
As long as I am in the General Assembly, one of my top priorities will always be to ensure our schools continue to be the best in the state. This session of the General Assembly was a positive one for education in Georgia. I grew up in Fayette County and received the benefit of a great education in our public schools. I will continue to work at the State Capitol to ensure my two young children and all the children of our community will have the same great schools in Fayette County for years to come.