Members of Georgia’s Board of Education Wednesday mulled the governor’s recent order to cut fat in spending plans for this year and next.
The department oversees public school funding and has a $10.6 billion budget, or more than a third of all state spending. Still, much of that is non-discretionary and Gov. Brian Kemp says investing in education remains a priority. So, the early suggestions for savings are more symbolic than significant.
The aim for most state departments is to reduce the budget that took effect in July by 4% and to cut next year’s budget by 6%.
The budget committee Wednesday batted around the idea of eliminating some travel and an annual conference for school district staff scheduled for June 2020.
The conference’s cost is about $182,000, a minuscule amount of the department’s overall budget, and would be paid for with federal money for professional learning.
The exercise illustrates the difficulty in cutting the education and health care budgets that account for more than two-thirds of the state’s current $27.5 billion spending plan.
And the priority is to make cuts that do the least harm to students and teachers, board member Mike Royal said. Still, he rallied his colleagues to embrace the spirit of the governor’s call and look for places to trim.
“It’s all hands-on deck and everything is on the table,” he told his fellow budget committee members.
The education department’s budget cutters might be willing, but they are hamstrung by limited options.
The department’s budget increased by roughly $700 million after lawmakers approved a $3,000 teacher pay raise made official by Kemp when he signed the budget in May. The governor has maintained that he plans to fulfill the remaining $2,000 of his campaign pledge to increase k-12 teacher salaries.
And cutting professional development isn’t an easy choice, either. Training is one way educators can climb the salary ladder.
This year’s budget also contains hundreds of millions of dollars for public school enrollment growth, which is not discretionary.
House budget leader Terry England is on record saying that finding enough discretionary spending to make the governor’s full reductions across the board will be tough. The Auburn Republican said he assumes that public schools and Quality Basic Education funding are exempt from those reductions, but that information isn’t public yet.
School board members and department staff pondered Wednesday whether the annual conference can be held on a smaller scale.
“We’re looking at where we could consolidate as much as possible,” Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “We’re looking at all things pretty in-depth right now. Travel is a big part of that. We’ve basically canceled everything outside of the state now. Our focus is our ability to support our districts.”
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