January 6, 2011 --- Atlanta, GA
The closing months of 2010 saw much activity in Metro Atlanta, a flurry of events that capped off a tumultuous year for the city and the nation as a whole. Despite a late year visit by President Obama in which he spoke of education being the economic issue of this generation, Georgia, and Metro Atlanta in particular face steep hurdles in the race to remain educationally competitive in an increasingly global landscape.
Earlier in the year, DeKalb county school board members voted to close 12 schools in the district, a move supporters said would help to ease the burden of $115 million budget deficit. Board members supported the move even though an independent report showed that four of the schools on the proposed closure list would only knock about 3 percent off that $115 million dollar shortfall. Residents of the area, began to accuse the school board of racism, as most of the schools on the list were in South DeKalb, home to a primarily African-American population.
The school board, in a shallow attempt to respond to community pressure voted not to close any schools during the 2010-2011 school year, but to resume the scheduled closings for the 2011-2012 school year. Parents and even some board members cried foul, and an independent consulting firm, MGT of America, was hired to conduct an independent study at the cost of $400,000 dollars to county taxpayers. So now I suppose that deficit is somewhere in the neighborhood of $115,400,000 dollars.
After final analysis, 14+ schools are now set to close during the 2010-2011 school year, a move that according to school board officials would save the state millions. Not to mention eliminate 11,000 county seats, a move that would greatly weaken DeKalb County’s voting voice within the state. DeKalb is home to the third largest district in Georgia, and is the second largest county in terms of African-American population. The schools on the list are Livsey, Medlock, Rock Chapel, Bob Mathis, Atherton, Glen Haven, Gresham Park, Sky Haven, Toney, Peachcrest, Wadsworth and Kittredge. The proposal also calls for Avondale Middle and Avondale High, which actually brings the number of proposed closures to 15.
What about hope? No, not the intangible kind that fuels inner fires, but the Hope Scholarship, the primary means to higher education for so many Georgia residents? The prognosis is grim, to put it mildly. Recently, it’s been reported that demand for the popular academic funding program has been outpacing state funding.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, the program suffered a $244 million shortfall during fiscal year 2010 and is likely to see that number increase to $371 million by 2012. With no income cap on parents of recipients and the only other criteria being that students have a 3.0 Grade Point Average upon graduation from an accredited Georgia High School, this isn’t really a surprise. Like myriad other social welfare programs aimed at increasing meritocracy, it is abused by those who have no need of it.
A significant percentage of the students receiving Hope have parents that make well above $100,000 annually, the last income amount used as a cap for the scholarship before that cap was totally eliminated in 1995. To put it plainly, the money just simply isn’t going where it’s needed most.
Students from lower income families, most of which are considered minorities, are more likely than any other demographic to depend on scholarships for college.
According to an NAACP report, only 42 percent of African-Americans, the third largest ethnic group in America, complete college nationally, and many do not enroll in college or universities immediately following high school graduation. The number of college grads in Georgia is set to decline even further if state funding for students dries up. As is well documented, a college education is the primary means for low income individuals to reach the middle class, but as has been highlighted here and in events such as the recent tuition increases in Great Britain, this is becoming increasingly difficult.
Without the ‘hope’ of state scholarship funding, many will be forced to take out student loans, some unsubsidized, or attend for- profit colleges; not always the best options. Looks like President Obama was right, education is turning out to be an economic issue after all.
Benjamin Burton Jr. 1/6/2011