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In 2009, Georgia was awarded an $8.9 million federal grant to improve its educational data system. Since then, Georgia Department of Education has been developing a statewide Longitudinal Data System (LDS), which allows the State, school districts, schools, teachers and ultimately, parents to make data-driven decisions to improve student learning. In fact, a large piece of the Federal Race to the Top Grant Georgia received last year is tied to the implementation of such a system.

Enrollment, attendance, assessment, and course information for Georgia’s public school students has been gathered for ages, and now can be easily and quickly reviewed. The application is designed to players at every level to make data- driven decisions to improve student learning, and allow assessment and planning which could help close achievement gaps. Already, the system has been implemented across most of Georgia, and though districts can choose whether or not to participate in the program, so far all but one county has chosen to opt in.

Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend demo on the DOE’s K-12 LDS, which some day (hopefully soon) will also track students through preschool and post secondary school as well. Though the system still needs a few more bells and whistles, the sheer ability to drill down into long term data about each district, school, teacher and student is pretty impressive, and useful. I am even more pleased, however, that the system promotes education as a continuum. Long has Georgia needed to align the designs and demands of Pre-K, K-12, college and technical schools so that investments made in all parts of the journey come to fruition for each child.

Budget hearings during a recession are rarely uplifting, and today was no exception. K-12, the University System and the Technical College System of Georgia all had their moments in the sun – or rather shade, justifying their expenditures and cuts for the FY11 amended budget and the big budget for FY12. While there was much talk of the increasing efficiency of programs and brave sacrifice of staff and students, the ongoing lack of revenues and the uncertain speed of recovery hung over the hearings like a piano on a frayed rope.

Graphs presented by all entities in the education system had a consistent shape: peaking in 2009 and sharply declining over the next 2-3 years. Expenditures per student at all levels have fallen drastically as a result of low revenues coupled with increased demand. In addition to potential increases in class size, K-12 could lose yet more money for school nurses. USG’s budget has dropped about 25 % from $2.3 Billion in 2009 to $1.74 Billion for 2012, yet the system has grown by 37,000 students over that time. That translates into a drop in expenditures from $8200/student to $5500/student in just 3 years. Technical colleges have merged institutions, moving from 33 colleges in 2008 to 26 in 2011. While this is often seen as a more efficient use of resources, one has to wonder about increased lack of access for those left in the further ends of the tech school regions. An educated workforce is the surest pathway out of a recession, but a recession such as this is doing all it can to block the road out.

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