State budget priorities unbalanced and unfair

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In the shadow of the massive protests in Egypt that unseated a president, the shot seems to have been heard around the world.

In Madison, Wisconsin, thousands of public employees (many of them teachers) came out in protest of plans by the Governor to limit collective bargaining, basically unplugging labor unions.

We have seen a similar issue facing Georgia. Public school teachers (as well as other public employees) are taking furlough days right and left, a money saving tactic that unethically compromised their contracts in the middle of the read and lowers their annual pay (although they are still expected to come into work out of the goodness of their hearts).

I certainly understand that in a recession, we are all expected to make sacrifices. What irritates me is the fact that the same establishments that are preaching endlessly about the necessity of public employees to shoulder the weight of “hard times” are the same ones who insist on extending tax cuts to the many of the wealthiest people on the planet.

As a child raised by two teachers, I spend every holiday and occasional weekend visit home hearing my parents talk about “fund saving” strategies (such as pushing six class periods into one day and laying off new teachers) that are making Georgia educators want to rip their hair out.

Of perhaps more concern to college students is the threat to state scholarships such as HOPE and the Georgia Tuition Equalization Grant, the funds of which are drained for money. Yet the solution, according to our lawmakers, is not in tax hikes for those who can afford it.

I’m certainly not advocating that we end tax breaks for those with 12 mansions in various states and make CEOs CHOOSE between spending the summer in the Swiss Alps and going on December cruises to the South China Seas instead of the usual both.

My eyes water simply thinking about it. However, I cannot fathom how the fat that must be trimmed has to come from public programs (such as education and health services).

Additionally, the laws of the state leave teachers helpless in fighting these “reformations” and can either accept unfair and ridiculous budget cuts or be terminated from their jobs.

Our great state of Georgia (which has made a fine living protecting the interests of wealthy white people over the past two centuries) ranks only ahead of North Carolina in the number of union members in the state (thank you, Right to Work laws).

What this essentially equates to is that Georgia’s teachers cannot go on strike because the state has the right to terminate said striking teachers. Our state has used red tape and bureaucracy to benefit itself again to a point where salary, contract and benefits for teachers as well as educational funding for students are at the mercy of a government that will sooner keep students from getting college degrees than end tax breaks for millionaires.

It is high time our state looked over its priorities again. Do we value public funding for education more than appeasing wealthy campaign donors and lobbyists?

My suggestion is that the state repeal its archaic restrictions on unionization and allow teachers the opportunity to negotiate with their employers before having hunks of their paychecks absorbed into a state budget handled by a government that shows little concern for the well-being of the millions of Georgians who study and teach.

Comments on this opinion can be sent to kyle.mitchell.shook@live.mercer.edu

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