Opinion: Defunding schools and adding unnecessary burdens on teachers will ultimately hurt students across Georgia

Micheal GarzaPhoto provided by Micheal Garza

[This opinion article is by Micheal Garza a Democratic candidate running for Georgia House District 46 representing NE Cobb and SE Cherokee County]

Earlier this session, Georgia GOP lawmakers introduced HB 888, legislation that adds onerous new requirements on educators and administrators and promises to defund school systems for teaching concepts related to diversity, inclusion, equity, empathy, and awareness of other cultures. That this is even being considered shows just how out of touch legislators are with those doing the hard work of educating our youth in an unprecedented time in our history.

At its core, the bill is a direct attack on teachers, school administrators, and the entire public school system in the state. It is built on the premise that teachers and librarians are part of a conspiracy to indoctrinate children simply because schools offer curriculums and reading materials that provide a learning experience reflective of the diverse populations that they serve. The penalty for this is severe – 20% of a school’s QBE funding. For Cobb County, a single infraction would result in a loss of over $100 million in funding for our public schools.

Our county might be able to handle such a loss by raising taxes or dipping into reserves, but most school systems in the state could not. Those districts would see higher class sizes, decreased classroom resources, and reduced funds to cover transportation and infrastructure improvements. That’s a recipe for poor student outcomes, especially after two decades oflawmakers defunding our public school system to the tune of over $10 billion.

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The legislation also comes at a time when our educators are already stretched thin due to the pandemic. Districts throughout the state have struggled to remain open amid COVID-19 staff shortages and student absences – in Cobb County alone, the district saw a 60% increase in teacher absences and five times the number of elementary school absences during the first week back in January. Statewide 83% of teachers have spent additional time communicating with and providing support to parents, 75% have spent additional time planning and providingfor both in-person and virtual instruction, and half have spent additional time substituting for absent colleagues.

And now, we are adding unnecessary burdensome requirements to their workload and subjecting them to career-threatening penalties because legislators believe doing so will help them win elections. It’s no wonder why many teachers are considering leaving the profession.

Supporters of the legislation have argued the need for the bill’s provisions by throwing around terms like “transparency” and “parents’ bill of rights.” But parents do not need a new level of bureaucracy at the state level in order to be involved with our children’s education. Most of us are aware of what’s going on in the classroom already. Our kids bring home textbooks, worksheets, and homework assignments which we can review at any time. Every class holds parent-teacher conferences to see how our children are doing with specific concepts being taught in class. And each school has a PTA that allows any parent to be actively involved, not only in their child’s specific education, but in advocating for specific policies school-wide.

There are things that we CAN do as legislators if we are truly interested in what’s best for our children. We can start by focusing on student-centered and educator-informed measures to address immediate and long standing barriers to student success. These measures include smaller student class sizes, personalized learning, increasing the number of school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, and providing wraparound services to aid families. Doing these things will require a long-term commitment by the Georgia Assembly to invest in student mental health, to invest in student academic success, to invest in the attraction and retention of educators, and to invest in the health of communities everywhere in this great state of ours. And they will require us rejecting bills like HB 888.

Micheal Garza is a Democratic candidate running for Georgia House District 46 representing NE Cobb and SE Cherokee County. www.michealgarza.com

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