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Since lottery programs were launched in 1993, HOPE was given wings; Georgia Pre-K was kept in a straight jacket.  What should we expect for the future?  Better yet, what should we demand? 

After 1993, the legislature expanded the HOPE program almost every year to cover more audiences and higher tuitions.  The original target was new high school grads, then they added all graduates before 1993, a second chance for those whose grades fell below the required “B,” unlimited HOPE grants at the tech schools, special military scholarships, and home-schooled students.  Private college scholarships were quadrupled, and the Board of Regents raised tuition regularly, assured it would be covered by HOPE.  When lottery revenues were forecast to flatten out, the legislature tinkered with the definition of high school GPAs and course requirements and limited total college credit hours to try to control spending. 

Pre-K, on the other hand, was immobilized almost from the start.  Our “universal” program actually limited the number of kids to be served.  As many as 10,000 4-year-olds have waited for an opening.  Qualified providers requested 13,070 additional slots in 2010; 11,000 were denied.  Even more egregious, while tuition went up in colleges, we ignored the parallel increase in costs of Pre-K.  “Tuition,” the per child reimbursement for Pre-K, has been essentially flat for 15 years!  We required higher credentials for Pre-K teachers but we didn’t pay for them.  Another audience in great need, much like those pre-1993 high school grads, were 3-year-olds, especially disadvantaged children.  The legislature has ignored them.  

Neither unfettered funding for HOPE nor constricted funding for Pre-K will yield the results Georgia needs for education and economic success.  Please, Governor Deal, limit the changes to lottery programs this year.  We need an open discussion and a clear vision, informed by solid research and Georgia’s identifiable needs.   We don’t need the pressure and politics of the legislative session to drive these decisions.

After several hours of debate and a delay to allow the Senate to pass HB 1055 which raises certain user fees, contains the hospital bed tax and phases in property tax cuts and income tax cuts for seniors, the House passed the FY 11 budget today.  The budget now goes to the Senate.

In response to Georgia’s continuing fiscal crisis, the budget passed by the House contains deep cuts to K-12 education and child welfare workers, furloughs of state workers, reduction in the number of case workers and benefits workers.  Yet, Voices was pleased that the House has endorsed two Voices funding priorities.

The House’s version of the FY 11 budget contains the necessary state match for the implementation of the Planning for Healthy Babies Medicaid waiver program.  When it implements the waiver, the Department of Community Health can pull down 90 cents from the federal government for every 10 cents of state funds spent to provide women under 200 percent of the federal poverty limits with health services targeted to ensure healthy pregnancies and decrease the number of very low birth weight infants in our state. Not only does this promote better child outcomes but it is also projected to bring significant savings to Georgia.

In addition, Voices has also spoken against the Governor’s proposed cut to the lottery funded pre-k Resource Coordinator program which provides vital services to empower parents to become engaged in their child’s education.  We are happy to note that the House version of the FY 11 budget, reduces the size of the cut to Resource Coordinators by 50% while also funding 2000 new pre-k slots.

We’ve passed an important hurdle and will continue to work with members of the Senate to ensure that amendments to these items are not made in the Senate’s version of the FY 11 budget.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (GPEE) today released three policy briefs explaining their position on key education reform bills before the Georgia legislature.

  • Click here to read the Partnership’s statement on school vouchers, an issue that is currently being proposed by Senate Bill 361.
  • Click here to read the statement on tiered high school diplomas, an issue that is currently being proposed by House Bill 215.
  • Click here to read the statement on growth-based accountability and school grades, an issue that is currently being proposed by House Bill 1100 and Senate Bill 352.

In these lean budget times, there’s a lot of talk about “right-sizing” government. Recently I’ve also heard people speak of what government “must” do versus what government “should” do and that in these tough times, we have to let a lot of the “shoulds” go. But indulge me for a moment as I think about kids.

The other day one of my colleagues pointed out a few “shoulds” for kids. Kids should do their homework and they should brush their teeth every day. Technically, these aren’t “musts.” If they don’t do their homework this weekend, they’re not going to be expelled from school on Monday. If they don’t brush their teeth tonight, they’re not going to see all their teeth fall out by Tuesday. That said, even in tough times, we still make our kids do their homework and brush their teeth. Why? Because we know there are serious long term consequences if they fail to act responsibly today. The same is true for government, especially when it comes to caring for our kids and planning for the future of our state. That is why we MUST not continue to cut the budget of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in a manner that hurts kids. We have to fund some of the “shoulds,” even if it requires increases in revenue.

One of the biggest concerns I have about the proposed DHS budget [summary available on DHS’s home page. Scroll down to Joint Appropriations Committee Presentation] is the attempt to “save” money by putting additional responsibilities on existing workers. Those existing workers are already way over-burdened and shifting more responsibility to them, will simply result in the work not getting done – not because the workers don’t care, but because the workers have reached a breaking point, they are already stretched beyond all measure and cannot be asked to do more.

A few key points about the DHS budget:

–         At a time when more people are unemployed and thus needing help – including help to feed their children, the state is reducing the number of eligibility workers.

  • When it comes to children, helping eligible people access food stamps and other essential safety net services is not a should, it’s a must.

–         At a time of greater stress for families because of the economic situation, we’re investigating fewer cases of child abuse and neglect but also cutting in-home case management contracts by $2 million.

  • Those in-home services help families whose children were diverted from state custody but are considered at risk of abuse and neglect.
  • Protecting children from abuse and neglect is not a should, it’s a must.

Evidence says our DHS workers are already at a breaking point.

–         The most recent report from federal monitors appointed due to a lawsuit against the state related to conditions in the child welfare system shows a significant reduction in oversight of private placements for children in foster care at the same time we’ve seen an increased percentage of children abused while in state custody (abuse rate in report is double that allowed by the lawsuit settlement and triple the newer federal standard).

–         The same report shows a dangerous drop in case workers meeting the requirement to visit children in foster care twice a month. Goal is 95% of children visit with their case managers twice a month. Last report shows only 51% of cases reviewed met that standard.

–         Maybe even scarier, the most recent Child Fatality Review Panel report reveals more than a 30% increase in “homicide deaths associated with maltreatment findings.”

–         Also check out TV news coverage of the situation in Fulton County.

Is protecting children a should or must? Apparently not all of us see eye-to-eye. What do you think?

beth

Good morning!

When will we see a copy of the Governor’s proposed budget?

While we had hoped to have details by now, the Governor indicated during his “State of the State” address that he would share some details about the budget on Friday, January 15.  He is constitutionally required to give the budget to the General Assembly by the 5th legislative day which will be Tuesday, January 25. Voices will work to analyze the impact of cuts to kids and will share them with you here.

What about the rest of the legislative schedule?

According to the schedule that was adopted this week, the Georgia General Assembly meets today for its fourth legislative day of business. They will then be off tomorrow and Monday for the Martin Luther King weekend.

Budget hearings will be held the remainder of next week, and we’ll post a schedule of the hearings of agencies affecting kids here.

The Legislature will reconvene on January 25 and meet through January 28th for legislative days 5-8. February 1 is scheduled to be legislative day 9, and the legislators will be in session through February 5 which will be legislative day 13.

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