- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Sept. 2

The Brunswick News on putting a state sales tax on groceries:

Legislators who speak for this region of Coastal Georgia say they are very warm to the idea of reducing the state’s income tax and replacing the loss of revenue with an additional 1 percent state sales tax. But, they stress, they would be concerned and perhaps even opposed to any plan that puts the state sales tax, which would rise from 4 to 5 percent, on groceries.

To Reps. Alex Atwood, Jason Spencer and Jeff Jones, it would be the wrong course of action. Increase the sales tax but leave it off groceries, they say.

Coastal Georgians can see their point. It’s one thing to tax what is considered nonessential purchases. It’s all together another matter, however, when tacking an additional 5 percent onto essentials like food. It would create an undesired burden on low income families and fixed income individuals. Everyone has to eat every day, but not everyone has to buy a new sweater or toaster every 24 hours.

This is not to say it will happen. For the time being, lowering the state income tax and beginning to rely more on a consumption tax is a proposal currently being aired by the Georgia House Ways and Means Committee.

The goal of the committee, however, must be to make sure whatever revenue source is chipped away be replaced by another revenue source that is at least equal to, if not close to equal to, what will be jettisoned into history. If it’s not, if it’s less than what’s flowing into the state treasury, then thought must be given to cutbacks or perhaps even a higher sales tax. Taxing food should not be an alternative.

Of course, Rep. Spencer would propose another idea to members of Ways and Means who want to balance old revenue with new revenue: put state government on a weight reduction plan.

That’s not a bad idea.

Online:

https://www.thebrunswicknews.com/

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Sept. 3

The Savannah Morning News on spending plan to reverse cuts to state’s pre-kindergarten program:

Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to spend $50 million to reverse cuts to Georgia’s pre-kindergarten program was good news for parents, teachers and the state’s 4-year-olds.

The money will lower class sizes and increase teacher pay for the lottery-funded program

Deal said he plans to get the extra funding from a lottery reserve fund. The fund had roughly $350 million last year, after growing about $60 million a year the past three years. Deal previously opposed requests to tap the fund.

“We all know the statistics indicate a good pre-K program is the best starting point we can have for children in schools,” Deal said. “Class size and teacher compensation are critical components for being able to have an effective and responsible pre-K program.”

Georgia voters approved establishment of the lottery in 1992 with promises that part of the proceeds would be used for education. The pre-K program was established in 1993, and in 1995 it became the nation’s first universal preschool program for 4-year-olds. About 81,000 children are served by the program.

In 2011, however, Deal and state lawmakers cut the pre-kindergarten program’s school year by 20 days and raised the maximum classroom size from 20 to 22 students to save money. A 180-day school calendar has since been restored, but class sizes remain the same.

Early childhood education experts welcomed Deal’s proposal. The director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, Steve Barnett, said Georgia’s reputation as a leader in early education was severely damaged as days were cut, class sizes were increased and experienced teachers fled. The pre-K program still has trouble retaining its teachers. The program now keeps about 75 percent of its teachers, down from 83 percent when the brunt of the cuts took effect.

But Deal has kept the state’s promise to use part of the lottery proceeds for educational purposes and prevent lawmakers from dipping into the reserves for their individual pet projects. He’s right when he says that when money is available, “we need to do what we can to spend it wisely.”

Online:

https://www.savannahnow.com

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Sept. 6

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on state’s SAT scores:

There are no negatives in the improved SAT scores for Muscogee County schools, as well as across the state of Georgia. The news that both Georgia and Muscogee high schools edged closer to the national average is especially encouraging given that much of the narrowing gap is attributable to improvement at the local and state levels, and not just to a sag in national averages. (It is also statistically significant that such a high percentage of Georgia students take the SAT relative to other states.)

As recently reported, seven of nine Muscogee County School District high schools saw increases in composite SAT scores, and the two schools whose scores dropped saw only single-digit decreases. The surge in some of the schools was pretty dramatic, especially a 69-point increase at Spencer, 60 at Jordan and 59 at Early College.

The administration of Superintendent David Lewis reacted publicly with predictable pleasure at the improvements, but also with acknowledgement of a larger perspective. “We are pleased with our continued composite score growth as evidenced in a majority of our high schools,” MCSD assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten wrote, adding that the MCSD remains “committed to closing the gap” between local scores and those of the state and nation.

The latter should raise a red flag: The national average SAT score dropped by 7 points to a 10-year low, even as Georgia’s rose by 5 points, to 1450, and Muscogee’s by 3 points, to 1432 - both still significantly below the national average of 1490.

Even as test scores for high school students were trending upward, the news for younger students in Georgia was - not unexpectedly - rather bleak. The “trial run” for the new Georgia Milestones tests (they won’t be official until next year) showed what state Superintendent Richard Woods expected: Previous tests had painted an inaccurately rosy picture.

According to results released by the Georgia Department of Education, only about one-third of Georgia students were rated proficient or better in most subjects. At least as alarming: More than one-fourth of students across all grades scored at the lowest level, “beginning learner,” in English, math, science and social science. (The “beginning learner” composite score in science was 33 percent.)

Before the Milestones standard, Woods wrote in a news release, “Georgia had some of the lowest expectations in the nation for its students. Too many students were labeled as proficient when, in reality, they had not fully mastered the standards and needed additional support.”

Unless those proficiency levels rise significantly, upbeat statistics like this year’s improved SAT scores will be a distant memory. High schoolers don’t ace a standardized test that demands knowledge of things they didn’t learn in grade school.

Meanwhile, kudos to educators, administrators and, of course, students and parents who share credit for the improvements. Keep up the good work, because there’s obviously a lot more of it to be done.

Online:

https://www.ledger-enquirer.com

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