Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Let’s Build Ladders

Let’s Build Ladders At a recent professional development conference, the keynote speaker made a comment that really got my attention. He said, “instead of always focusing on and talking about building safety nets in our country, let’s build more ladders.” Is that not what the American Dream is all about? Have we not digressed from a nation that offered complete freedom in pursuing all that a citizen’s human imagination could dream to a nation where millions languish and survive on the minimums its governments dole out? Education has long been a societal ladder offering anyone who worked hard and studied hard, a skill set to pursue vocational and occupational success. The American Public Education system has been called the great equalizer meaning that if one worked hard and earned the educational credentials that are available, they could achieve success far above whatever socioeconomic background one came from. Recently, community leaders from the Dalton-Whitfield community came together and pledged their support for a unified focus on literacy and assisting all our school children in being on OR ABOVE grade level by the end of the third grade. We encouraged the leadership of our school systems to be innovative in making that success possible. Because all of our children enter pre-kindergarten at different levels of ability as it relates to reading, a focus on literacy requires resources beyond the normal school budget. And in a time when education funding is continuously cut by the state of Georgia (and most state governments), local budgets struggle to maintain existing programs much less offer new and expensive ones. “For the first time in 16 years, local governments paid a higher share of the cost of public education than state governments. In 2010, Georgia’s public schools received about 38 percent of their funding from the state, with local government paying about 48 percent,” as reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. The Executive Board of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce enthusiastically applauds our community’s leaders (especially those of our school systems) for taking a risk in offering our children the help they need at the time they need it. The old model of thinking requires resources be spent on remediation and trying to get students who are failing caught up. But doesn’t it make sense to give our children the resources and assistance that can provide them success throughout their education. It has been overly stated but the saying goes that “we learn to read up through the third grade and read to learn after that.” We applaud the bold action by our school systems to invest in reading and providing all children regardless of background the opportunity to succeed in school. Over time this increased investment in education on the front-end has the potential to drastically reduce resources spent for remediation and drastically increase our graduation rate. Providing innovative educational opportunities is not cheap. The Readers to Leaders initiative will require more teachers in grades pre-k through 3 to provide the one-on-one and small group focus on reading and comprehension. The need for these resources and as stated earlier to provide the funding that the state has cut, our school systems need a stable and balanced revenue base. The most stable and fair revenue base is a combination of reasonable property tax rates and the regular utilization of a Special Local Option Sales Tax for education. The Executive Board of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce endorses the passage of the ESPLOST Referendum on the July 31st ballot. The ESPLOST is a needed component of revenue that can allow our school systems to pay off their construction debt, make needed investments in technology for our schools / students, and reduce pressure on their operating budgets freeing up resources for Literacy Initiatives, etc. As the voice of business and the organization that looks out for the best interests of the business community, we traditionally would oppose increased taxes. But when you compare our community to our neighbors and the state average, our tax rates are and have been significantly lower than most communities in Georgia. Given that we also advocate for a skilled workforce, we feel the combination of both revenue streams will allow for the best investment in our children while maintaining our competitive position versus other communities. All of us need to continue challenging our school leaders to be as innovative as possible in driving educational attainment. And as they offer creative ways to increase our educational success, we must do our part to provide the necessary resources to fund those initiatives. As a community, let’s be about building ladders to success and not more and larger safety nets…

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