Updated: May 15
Georgia education officials got their first look today at budget cuts ahead for public schools and programs amid coronavirus but did not dive into specifics on whether staff furloughs or layoffs may be needed.
byBeau Evans|May 14, 2020
Georgia education officials got their first look Thursday, May 14, at budget cuts ahead for public schools and programs amid coronavirus but did not dive into specifics on whether staff furloughs or layoffs may be needed.
The Georgia Department of Education is facing across-the-board cuts of around $1.6 billion to all aspects of the agency, from state administrative offices in Atlanta to specialty programs like agricultural education to everyday basic classroom education.
Those cuts come as part of 14% spending reductions that all state agencies must propose to state lawmakers by May 20, as business closures and social distancing spurred by coronavirus look to put state revenues in a $3 billion to $4 billion hole.
The blow to some educational programs will be softened since the agency was already gearing up for 6% budget reductions Gov. Brian Kemp ordered last summer for the fiscal 2021 budget, officials said Thursday at a State Board of Education meeting.
To manage those previous cuts, education officials imposed a hiring freeze starting last October, restricted travel, clamped down on approving new vendor contracts and halted in-person staff training and professional development, among other measures.
But the previous cuts did not include the nearly $11.7 billion in funding the agency proposed to dole out for local school districts based on the number of students they enroll. Those funds take up by far the largest chunk of the state’s education spending and pay for bottom-line classroom programs and teacher salaries.
State officials expect to get more detailed rundowns next week from local school districts on how they plan to absorb the cuts. All aspects of their budgets – from personnel costs to contracts to facility rents and more – will be evaluated, officials said Thursday.
“These are incredibly challenging times and everybody’s got a lot of very, very important work to do the best we can for students, administrators and teachers throughout the state of Georgia,” said board Chairman Scott Sweeney.
Jason Downey, also a board member, said he has fielded calls from people worried about extended furloughs and shortened school weeks. He urged the board to communicate clearly with the public as decisions are made in the coming weeks on how the cuts will affect local schools.
“This is like [the 2008 recession] and in many ways could be much worse,” Downey said. “We just need to be sure that everyone is well informed.”