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Georgia editorial roundup

May 16, 2018

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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May 14

The Covington News says the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax deserves to be renewed:

It’s now official: Georgia schools will be fully funded according to the education formula that has been in place for years.

The state’s fiscal 2019 budget was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal this week. Among the $26.2 billion in state spending is $9.9 billion for the state’s public schools, $166 million more than originally budgeted, based on the state’s increased revenue projections.

The Department of Education’s Quality Basic Education program has been in place since 1985 but has not been implemented completely in recent years. The formula is used to determine how much state money each public school district in the state receives, with additional funds allotted proportionally to help to smaller school districts with a limited tax base. Education advocates and a commission chaired by the governor that included Hall Superintendent Will Schofield and Times columnist Dick Yarbrough have recommended updating the formula, and that may be the next big reform. For now, providing a full share of money to disperse is a good start.

Schools took a hit during the recession at the end of the last decade that forced the state to apply austere budget cuts to all spending to maintain a balanced budget, as required by its constitution. Years later, with the economy now growing and tax money again flowing in, those days of skimping and scraping thankfully may be over.

Since 2003, Hall schools have lost more than $152 million due to limited state funding while its enrollment numbers continue to rise. Gainesville schools’ total shortfall has been more than $37 million with a record number of students. That led to shortened school calendars, larger class sizes, elimination of programs like art and music and the tapping of reserve funds. Both systems have taken great pains not to increase school tax rates to keep pace with student growth, technological needs and building maintenance. That’s why Schofield likened the restoration of full QBE funding to “getting an early Christmas present.”

That’s not to say schools have everything they need. Even as the state has boosted spending, a growing student population creates additional challenges for districts like Hall, Gainesville and others. As recently discussed, finding enough money to replace aging school buses is one of many additional expenditures needed.

And the new budget does not include pay raises for the state’s 200,000 teachers, though it does include an additional $361 million for teacher pensions. Pay levels need to be addressed next before teacher retention becomes a more serious problem. This spring, teachers in several states have resorted to protests and walkouts seeking to boost pay and benefits. We don’t want to see Georgia teachers following suit.

Debates over school funding are not new. Some in education may never be satisfied with what the budget provides, even if K-12 education is the state’s largest expenditure. During tough economic times, the tax money just wasn’t there, and state leaders can’t run a deficit and charge it to the future as they do in Washington.

And even with funding restored, school leaders are obligated to spend money wisely, eliminate waste and not spend more than necessary on administrative jobs that take resources better spent directly on students in the classroom. This is especially the case for some of the larger metro school systems with bloated bureaucracies in place.

In recent years, studies showed Georgia’s spending per student ranked 38th in the country and some $2,000 below the national average of $11,009. Even with full funding for QBE, the state must explore new and better ways to pay for student education to meet growing student enrollment and educational challenges.

Quality education is vital to keep the state’s economy growing. New businesses and industries need a trained, educated workforce for jobs best filled by Georgia graduates. Companies looking to locate here want good schools for their employees’ children.

That’s why keeping schools up to date with growth is perhaps the state’s greatest priority, and this year’s budget is a major step in that direction. Without good schools, Georgia’s economic foundation will collapse like a house of cards.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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May 14

Savannah Morning News says state governor candidates are playing identity politics:

To hold your nose and vote is one thing.

To suck your thumb and pout at the polls is another.

Many Georgians may face that sad reality going into next Tuesday’s primary. The candidates at the top of the ballot - those running for governor - should leave all but the most partisan voters depressed.

Most have thin leadership resumes, and instead of telling us how they can make a good state better, they’ve latched on to a few hashtag-trending issues. They are preying on our fears and anger rather than stoking our hopes with their focus on identity politics: guns, God and scholarships for the working class and underprivileged.

The field’s last chance to inspire starts tonight. The Staceys, Democrats Abrams and Evans, will debate at 7 p.m. in a forum hosted the Atlanta Press Club and televised by Georgia Public Broadcasting. The six Republican candidates will square off at 7 p.m. Thursday in their final televised debate.

Maybe the hopefuls will seize this last opportunity to trumpet their ideas and insights on a broader range of issues, like economic development or infrastructure or primary education.

They might even attempt to portray a sense of optimism. For a state many consider to be on the come, Georgia seemingly sits on one of Dante’s outer rings if these so-called leaders are to be believed.

Don’t count on a shift in message.

Race for second

Runner-up isn’t first loser in the Republican primary race. Finishing second is potentially a survive-and-advance situation, as the frontrunner, current Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, lacks broad enough support to avoid a July runoff, according to polling.

Cagle’s main rivals see a head-to-head showdown as their only path to the nomination and have spent much of the last month positioning themselves to the right of the staunchly conservative Cagle.

Brian Kemp runs an ad where he points a shotgun in the direction of a teenage boy to underscore his love for family and the Second Amendment. Then he doubles down with a spot where he brags about the size of the pickup truck he owns “just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ’em home myself.”

Hunter Hill is a bit more tasteful, tailoring his pitch to Evangelicals. The former Army Ranger is a man of prayer and a leader on the battlefield in his recent ads. But he’s also run TV spots depicting him loading ammo into an assault rifle and questioning the need for carry permits.

The candidate polling fourth, Clay Tippins, has plenty to campaign on. He’s a successful businessman and a former Navy SEAL. But he’s recently given voters reason to question his judgment by labeling Hill - again, an Army Ranger who served three combat tours - as “Benedict Arnold” for his gun positions.

The pandering may end up backfiring, driving more voters to Cagle. Polls have him at approximately 40 percent, but a significant number of undecided voters remain. He needs only 50 percent of the vote, plus one, to ensure his next race will be this fall, not this summer.

Chasing votes

The Democratic primary is a winner-take-all, but like the Republicans pursuing the frontrunner, Abrams and Evans are fixated on specific voting blocks.

For the Staceys, the primary is about African-Americans and suburban soccer moms. Abrams is focused on turnout and has been tirelessly campaigning in neighborhoods and communities heavy with African-American residents.

Evans has made the race solely about the HOPE scholarship. She sees Abrams, the former minority leader in the state legislature, as complicit in the move to tighten standards for the merit-based financial aid a decade ago. Restoring the original HOPE standards will make college a reality for more working class and underprivileged children, Evans’ reasoning goes.

HOPE has so come to dominate this race that one of the state’s most influential Democrats, Michael Owens, recently tried to steer a debate between the two away from the topic in order to talk “about other things Democrats might be interested in hearing about,” as he put it in a recent interview on Georgia Public Broadcasting.

He was unsuccessful.

Leadership is tricky. As John C. Maxwell said, “a leader knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” Tune in tonight and Thursday and watch for leaders among the bunch. And get familiar with how your thumb tastes.

Online: http://www.savannahnow.com

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May 13

Gainesville Times on the lives of students graduating high school this year:

The high school graduates who will cross the stage in coming weeks to accept their diplomas occupy a unique place in history even before they begin the next phase in their lives.

The bulk of the high school graduating classes this year are teens who were born in the 21st century, and who have grown up entirely in a post-9/11 world in which turmoil, violence and unrest are the status quo.

Their lives began around the time terrorist attacks claimed 3,000 lives. They grew up watching similar horrors from smaller but frequent terrorism strikes, two Mideast wars, random acts of domestic violence and ever-shifting global conflicts. Their home nation has been torn by political rhetoric growing uglier by the year spewed from warring camps entrenched in broadcast and online outlets.

Theirs is the most connected generation, living on a globe linked by instant information — and disinformation — from tweets, posts and texts, technology linking us closer even as it seems to separate us further.

They have more access to news about the world around them than ever before. Even before the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting rallied many to activism, their political antennae were vibrating.

The Class of 2018 has come of age at a difficult time.

This is not to say previous generations didn’t have their own crosses to bear: World wars, cold wars, depressions, Vietnam, social upheaval. But the march of news since 2001 has careened from one cataclysm to another with no pause to catch a breath. At the same time, many watched their parents endure financial struggles after the Great Recession, and the students’ lives changed as a result.

While there are some who are quick to label today’s young people as “snowflakes” lacking in the personal skills needed for survival in the “real” world, we suspect most are tough in ways different from those of previous generations.

These are kids who have cut their teeth on world chaos. There’s mettle among them, as shown by some who have been politically active on a variety of different fronts.

This generation of grads has a lot of good things going for it. For one, they may be better prepared as they emerge from school systems that have adopted high-tech learning tools and worked harder to steer more graduates into high-growth trades and industries.

The realization may finally have sunk in that the world has enough liberal arts majors but not enough electricians, welders and technicians. Now more students are leaving high school with realistic goals tailored to help them fit into the world, not the other way round. The concept of “knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” is beautiful in theory, but doesn’t always pay the power bill.

Those who do go to college may find it takes a while to find their own confidence and inner strength. Despite being called the “selfie generation,” self-confidence seems to be lacking for many. Self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness among adolescents began decreasing in 2012, according to an article in a journal published by the American Psychological Association. Those spending more time looking at digital screens had lower psychological well-being, according to the article.

Rates of depression, generalized anxiety and social anxiety have shown a clear growth trend in recent years, according to a 2017 annual report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health examining college students receiving mental health services. Anxiety and depression are the top reasons students seek mental health services.

But who can be surprised at those findings? Look at the world the adults in their lives have given them. If you wonder what is wrong with today’s young people, you may need to look in a mirror.

This year’s graduating classes are not yet ready to put their mark on the world, nor to establish their place in it. But that time will come, sooner instead of later.

As members of the baby boomer generation fade from the scene, these new post-millennials will establish their own social, political and environmental agendas.

Only time will tell if they manage to do a better job than their parents and grandparents. They would do well, however, to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors while embracing the successes of their elders. The hubris of inexperience can lead some to dismiss what previous generations have endured.

The sober reality of the ruthless world this year’s graduates have witnessed in almost two decades could be a blessing in disguise as they advance to college, work, military and other endeavors. While those who came before may have thought the world was their oyster to crack on a whim, the 9/11 generation knows nothing is for certain — not success, not prosperity, not even life itself.

That’s not a bad way to enter adulthood: With eyes and ears open and ego in check. In fact, that’s not a bad mantra for those of any age.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/

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