The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education held its 16th seminar on the “Top 10 issues to watch” in the year. The seminars are useful if only because for most of a day people focus on education, but the issue always is money.

We are not quite that blunt with education “issues.” The “issues” are carefully outlined. The GPEE does a sophisticated outline each year that covers the bases. The issues are calibrated to move from early in the education process through the college years.

For the past two or three years, at least, more emphasis has been put on after high school, which traditionally has not dealt with public education.

But the focus now, as it has been for some time, is on early learning – often before formal schooling starts.

You can be an education reporter now without hearing several times that the brain of a child does more “learning” from infant to 3 years old. That age range is usually not found in school.

Another trend in education is non-academic problems. It is often known as “social” problems and most often involves money.

It might also involve dysfunctional families, and that often can be money problems.

Love and relationships have become fad words in education circles.

Education also has become a catchall for things other parts of society are not doing. Getting kids ready for going to work is familiar. With the emphasis on “’pathways” and college and career academies, students are asked to focus on what they want to be when they grow up at an early age – often at the beginning of middle school.

I know one superintendent who wants sixth-graders to “have a plan” and eagerly looks forward to them changing plans multiple times.

The “pathways” in school now are “tryouts” for careers. If I were in school right now I’d focus on health care. That means a lot of science if a professional field is the goal. Computers are another hot field and that means math, and lots of it.

The third issue on the GPEE list is “literacy.” I wonder if its place is indicative. Third grade is generally the demarcation for kids to know how to read. Before that, they are learning to read; after that, they read to learn. Or so we are told.

The fourth issue is funding. Pardon my cynicism but that is the whole question. I have lived only one year where schools were priorities – that is, where schools got in line at the beginning instead of near the end.

We were proud of Georgia’s new governor, Brian Kemp, when he proposed a $5,000 raise for all teachers. The Barrow County Board of Education is considering a proposal to raise the local supplement by $1,000. That is at the bottom of what was outlined, and it still will cost about $1.3 million each year.

Some of the Democratic presidential candidates have proposed raises for teachers. That has not typically been a federal issue. Interesting to see if it goes anywhere and from where the money comes.

As I have said before, Georgia is, at best, mediocre as a state for education. The school districts in our coverage area fit there. Individual students might be different, but probably not the “average.”

Much of the discussion about public schools revolves around raising the percentage of kids who get into the upper brackets of accomplishments. Because of that, programs tend to focus on economically disadvantaged students.

Many programs for post-high school training is geared toward “first-generation” college students. Kids who would not ordinarily go to any school beyond high school are getting attention, as they should.

Money can’t be spent if we don’t have it. I heard that several times recently at a Barrow County BOE meeting. Money is not everything is another cliché I hear frequently. True, but money is usually way ahead of whatever is second.

Without more money, moving education programs to the top ranks in the country, much less the world, will be difficult, maybe impossible.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Send him email to ron@mainstreetnews.com.

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