$100 Gift Cards for Georgia Teachers

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This has to take the cake.

In what is perhaps the best election year antic that I've seen lately, in his State of the State speech, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue introduced a new program that would give each teacher in the state a $100 gift card. He describes it this way:

Teachers buy extra pencils and notebooks for their students ... decorations for the bulletin board ... materials for a class project ... the list is just about endless. But the important point is that teachers are spending their own money to help our children learn.
That dedication deserves recognition. It also deserves a little bit of extra help from us. That's why I've included $10 million in my budget to provide every Georgia teacher with one of these ... the Classroom Gift Card.

The Classroom Gift Card works just like the store gift cards that many of us found in our stockings at Christmas. Each Classroom Gift Card will be worth 100 dollars that teachers can use to purchase school supplies during Georgia's Back To School sales tax holiday this fall. It's just one more tool we can provide our teachers to help them do their important job.

The Governor's "generosity" doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. If teachers are spending their own money on supplies, the state shouldn't encourage this by giving out gift cards, instead the state should make more pencils, paper, markers, and project supplies available. Some are calling this a bribe for votes come November, I'm inclined to call this a lack of leadership. The Governor would be doing a better service to Georgia's children if he directed that $10 million to ensuring that teachers and students have the supplies they need.

My colleagues have also mentioned a couple of other reasons why these gift cards may not be all they are cracked up to be. There is much concern in the state that this gift card policy violates Georgia's bribery laws. Afterall, who is to say that a teacher won't end up buying a single pencil for the full value of the card from his/her friend who owns a school supply store. Of course, we all like to assume that teachers wouldn't behave in this manner, but it's obviously possible that cards will be lost and who knows how those tax dollars would be spent then?

Secondly, if the gift cards function like the ones I got in my Christmas stocking (as the Governor proposed in his speech) then there is no guarantee that teachers will actually spend their gift card on school supplies. Again, no one likes to assume the worst from an educator, but this raises the important issue of accountability and this gift card system offers no room for that.

While Governor Perdue is trying to give away gift cards to teachers, he's simulataneously pushing policies that would hold local school districts hostage by asking the Legislature:

to establish a standard for local school districts to spend at least 65% of their budgets in the classroom.

This so called "65% Solution" (which is being pushed by conservative lawmakers across the country) is another gimmick. Education and child advocates are right to argue that this proposal offers no solution at all. In fact, following this arbitrary formula would mean that in some cases school departments like libraries, media centers, and guidance counseling services would be completely cut from a school's budget.

There are certainly improvements that need to be made in school districts across the country, but offering gift cards and phony solutions aren't the answer. Let's hope other lawmakers across the country don't follow Governor Perdue's lead.

What do you think?

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