Funding imbalance puts Institute at risk

The newly-released budget for FY 2011 contains a seemingly-devastating 12.3 percent cut to the University System of Georgia. As horrible as it sounds though, this cut should have been bigger. The 12.3 percent cut to higher education is a drop in the barrel compared to the 38.3 percent, almost seven billion dollars, pulled out of elementary, middle and high schools across the state.

Georgia already has dubious primary education credentials. In 2007 Morgan Quinto’s Education State Rankings gave us a rank of 41 out of 50 states, based on statistics like SAT scores, college enrollment and standardized achievement scores in elementary schools. Additionally, we are the only state in 40 years to have an entire county threatened with the loss of its accreditation, and it has happened twice.

Clayton county also lost its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, leaving its graduation seniors ineligible for HOPE scholarships and making them less competitive when applying to out-of-state schools. Recently, the 670 student-body of Warren county was threatened with the same punishment, given until July 30 to fix the problem. Meaning, that on top of dealing with a decimated state budget, the administrators of the unethical Warren County Board of Education get to work to meet the nine recommendations made to the county.

Admittedly, not many Tech students come from Warren or Clayton county, and re-evaluating the budget recommendations to take another percentage from our budget could mean increased tuition and fees or decreased services and student-faculty ratios for students. But Tech does not exist in a bubble, and the devastation being wreaked on K-12 education in the state of Ga. will come back to haunt us.

Tech is a public school, and while its budget is in many ways independent of state politics due to federal grants, research funds and private donations, its student body is not. As a public school Tech has an obligation to enroll Ga. students, to make sure that they are serving children of the state that funds them. If those students are subjected to education systems that are underfunded or even worse, unaccredited, they will not be well prepared for the rigorous education we all do dearly enjoy here.

Students at Ga. schools, under the proposed budget, will not have access to the best teachers, to the most up-to-date educational software or to expensive class options like AP or IB classes, because individual counties and schools just won’t be able to afford it. Those students, assuming they can get into Tech, are more likely to struggle, fail out or transfer to our easier counterpart in Athens, cutting deeply into Tech’s already low graduation rates (currently less than 80 percent of Tech students graduate in six years).

Think about it in terms of entrance statistics. In order for Tech to attract the best students it needs to have high SATs and GPAs for very entrance class. Regardless of your personal feelings on the usefulness of these scores, high school applicants and various ranking services look at them when evaluating just how good a school Ma Tech really is. If Tech is forced to admit Ga. students with lower scores, our rankings will suffer.

Out-of-state students will be less likely to attend a school where their classmates are under-educated, and those that do attend will suffer from the deficiencies in their classmates’ educations. Imagine a calculus class where 20 of your classmates had never seen a graphing calculator because their high schools couldn’t afford them. Think back to your intro to CS class and imagine a student whose school system had never offered any technology classes because they couldn’t afford any software, or attract any qualified teachers.

The USG needs more money. Student-faculty ratios will rise in the face of the economic downturn, and there is a chance that tuition and fees will rise. But these cutbacks are nothing compared to the financial nightmare being visited upon Ga.’s already weak and struggling K-12 education system, a nightmare that will come back to life in a few years when those students enroll at USG schools and build classes of under-educated and uncompetitive students who will depress our entrance statistics and hurt the overall quality of education offered here. K-12 education has few options for funding, and the USG should mobilize to remind the state that before they can fund colleges, they must fund and support the students that will one day enroll here.