Geneva County school superintendent Becky Birdsong is breathing a bit easier after the new education budget was passed last week that increased funding for transportation by $15.4 million. Each year Becky’s school buses travel more than 300,000 miles carrying more than 1,300 students from home to school and back. Of the 900 miles of roads in the county, more than one-half of them are dirt.
And though the state is supposed to provide all transportation costs for local systems, Ms. Birdsong has been using more than $200,000 a year in local funding to run buses. Of course, this is $200,000 that is not available for other expenses.
The increase in transportation is just one of many improvements in the budget for 2016-17. Provisions were also made to cut class sizes in grades 7-12 and add 328 new teaching units. In all, improving economic conditions allowed an overall increase of more than $300 million to a total of $6.3 billion. This is the largest amount since 2008. Of this, $4.3 billion is for K-12.
The education budget is a mammoth undertaking. The spreadsheet detailing expenditures runs 17 pages long and has more than 500 individual line items. It is a super-sized jig saw puzzle.
Senator Authur Orr chairs the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee and Rep. Bill Poole chairs the Ways & Means Education Committee in the House. They may have the two most difficult jobs in the statehouse. Jobs that require a tremendous amount of homework and trying with all their might to weigh priorities and come to decisions that are as equitable as possible to as many as possible. They can never satisfy all requests and know that the money always runs out before the needs are met.
In my humble opinion they both do a great job. In my dealings with them they have been attentive, reasonable and engaged. That’s all we can ask for.
And I gladly tip my hat to them for a job well done.