Education: Through the Lens of Taliaferro County

June 17, 2014 11:03 am

by Scarlet Hawk · 10 comments

Each year, my church, Northside Drive Baptist Church, partners with various others, (Parkway Baptist, First Baptist of Augusta, and Milledge Avenue Baptist) to provide a vacation Bible school to children in Taliaferro County.  It is less preaching and proselytizing, and more grace and giving.  We’re not much on the fire and brim stone, more of a Jimmy Carter version of Baptist-namely because he was a deacon of our church while he was Governor.  And in this vein, I decided to sit in last night on Taliaferro County’s School Board Meeting.  I have grown to love the children we serve, and I was curious about their education funding and school board decisions.  Besides, I’m a political geek.  We like watching “good government at work”.

To answer your most pressing questions: it is pronounced “Toliver”, not “Tally-ah-fare-o”.  Say it in the latter way and the locals will know without a doubt you’re “not from around here”.  Second, it is located between Green and McDuffie counties, headed east down I-20.  Exit 148, to be exact, within the Crawfordville city limits.  It is a few exits down from Reynolds Plantation and all the wealth and beauty of the Lake Oconee area.

As a kid from Social Circle (just two hours west of Crawfordville), I grew up having my parents drill into my head that education was my ticket to a better future than they’d known.  More jobs, more options in life were supposed to be available to a farmer’s daughter with an education.  So for me, coming back every year to serve these children is not just a joy of service, but a reminder of from whence I have come.  I don’t know about where y’all grew up, but in Walton County people will readily call you out for getting “too big for your britches”.  So I leave my heels and make-up in Atlanta for a week every year to serve a bunch of kids who don’t know what I do, who I know, nor would they probably even care.  I tend to think we politicos need to be humbled more often than not.

The challenges of the school board here are a reminder of my local government at home.  There was discussion of bus routes (one which will be driven by the Superintendent herself), their vying for a technology grant, and regular lamentations from the community of changing rules regarding graduation expectations and lack of innovative leadership for the school faculty members.  However, the most challenging question of the evening came from a candid discussion between the Superintendent and a past board member, present in the crowd:

How are we going to fund the state imposed requirement of online based testing in a rural area that is struggling to meet End of Course testing requirements and does not have the tax base to fund such unfunded mandates?

 

Governor Deal has said that he will work to provide broad band coverage to all school district offices across the states.  However, that is not every school.  Also, the testing is to be given to all students, even those who are disabled or have special education needs, even if this comes at a cost of time and labor to the school, for which they payout of their budgets.  What’s more, in counties like Taliaferro, children are not at an economic level to have computers at home to have any prior understanding of online based testing.  Thus, this situation will set up an evitable hurdle for children in socio-economically depressed areas that have few online resources.  Further, if this particular school fails and the state shuts it down, these children will be bused to other surrounding county schools, potentially leading to lower test scores and more drop-out rates.

Please do not misinterpret my question to mean that I am opposed to online testing and/or requiring schools around the state to more aggressively raise their standards of what technology is at our children’s fingertips.

I am only pointing out that as of right now, this requirement is unfunded, and by doing so, sets up winners and losers across the state in rural areas.  I also do not have the answer to the question of education funding.  It is one smarter minds than mine will have to debate.  However, I cannot help but think of these really smart, courteous and ambitious kids who (like me) cannot help that they grew up in an area in which cell phone towers are not prevalent and funding is not abundant.  Growing up in wide open spaces is wonderful, but getting educated in one is still a challenge.

How do we fully and comprehensively educate our children: rural and urban in Georgia while valuing each from whence they come?

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” 
― C.S. Lewis

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jackster June 17, 2014 at 11:22 am

I’m always at a loss to answer a simple question: When funding schemes are focused around growth, what happens when the growth stops? Does the republican leadership assume that rural areas are growing?

I’d like to think that’s true, but I honestly wonder why folks continue to live there if there are challenges such as these in just getting your kids educated.

Or much less cared for – the closes hospital is in Washington, Ga @ 25 miles away, followed by Augusta and Greensboro @ 30 min away.

Scarlet Hawk June 17, 2014 at 3:52 pm

So some rural areas ARE growing, some are not, and none are growing at the same rate. So funding schools based on property taxes creates a mixed bag as is. I find in rural areas like the one from which I come that there exists sort of an old guard that like to invite certain people in and like to close the door behind them. In Walton County, it seems younger families like to move there but do not wish to have the larger growth (and subsequent urban sprawl) that other counties have experienced (please see Gwinnett, Walton’s neighbor). However, I’m solidly pro-growth and pro-small business. This is the conservative side of me, I guess. I like buying local, and I constantly ask local governments around the state (when i have the chance) to ask their businesses how they can improve the environment to grow and attract new business.

One of those ways is education. Larger businesses will not set up shop in counties with high taxes and poor education. We cannot tax ourselves to prosperity nor can we regulate ourselves to security. It’s a constant moving pendulum, and one local governments and their residents should decide.

However, to speak to the question of why would people live in rural areas like these…Have you ever been here? Seriously. It’s GORGEOUS. And Walton County is too. People know your name (and your mamma’s) in a small town atmosphere and they want to help you grow. There is a community feel you can get here in the rolling farmlands and four way stops. Nothing like it. It breeds an independence like no other and I can’t find a person who grows up in rural Georgia who doesn’t recognize the importance of duty, responsibility, and self-reliance.

As for rural health, you’ve hit on another topic close to my heart. Here is a piece I did in months back in regards to a statement Chairman Cooper made during legislative session: http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/01/21/rural-hospitals-closing-no-big-deal/.

And the response I wrote after she walked back from her statements: http://www.peachpundit.com/2014/01/23/the-chairman-knows-how-to-eat-crow-like-a-lady/

The question remains though, how do we fund these entities? We can’t move everyone to cities, nor would I ever wish to lose the rural feel of Taliaferro or my home county. So how do we address these needs in a responsible and respectful manner?

Jackster June 17, 2014 at 4:59 pm

I wonder if it’s an expectation gap – it seems to me the folks in these communities have lower expectations than those in the urban areas. Why should the urban areas and policy makers assume they know what the rural folks need and want?

FranInAtlanta June 17, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Why stay? Most aren’t growing. Houses sell for less than it would cost to build them and (in the area with which I am most familiar) about one out of four houses are for sale. The best jobs are in the local nursing home and they aren’t good. Except for those at the top of the heap, they are not trained for jobs they can acquire elsewhere. There is a lot of averting eyes with respect to giving welfare or disability or food stamps because most of the locals who can take care of themselves cannot take care of someone else also. The best that can happen is for the area to become a ex-urb for some urban are within an hour’s drive. Otherwise, more and more of those who get enough education leave and the others subsist on government handouts – and these aren’t inherently lazy people – some are the salt of the earth – they are just plain stuck. And I don’t know that school systems should be held to the same standard as north suburban Atlanta (or some of the schools in Fayette County) but I am sure that the capable kids MUST be educated for escape.

Scarlet Hawk June 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Please see my response above. I wouldn’t have left Walton County if I could have found work in my field there. My heart will always be there. And one of the reasons I write about these topics is not to encourage people to leave, but to stay and make it better.

I may have moved away, but I have always tried to support my hometown area in whatever way that I can. It is my responsibility and my joy.

I also remain optimistic about the future. I’d love to see counties across the state create one stop shops for business licensing, regulatory information and tax information to make it easier for small businesses to set up, stay afloat, and grow. I know there are some counties that have considered this and even within the SoS office, there has been some previous discussion of setting up a one stop shop portion on their website to register corporations with the state, provide a connection to federal portals for growth, and to connect with cities around the state.

I don’t think freeing business is the only answer though. People move into communities b/c they have low taxes, good schools, good roads, and healthcare options are available. The challenge of our times is to figure out how to provide these things for as low of a cost to our tax payers while providing the absolute best for our biggest investment- our kids. To leave out considerations of education and healthcare in rural settings is to miss the comprehensive big picture, and it is a narrow vision I fear too many local governments are unable to address adequately enough. T

hat’s why I pose the internal questions within my post. What are your ideas? What can be done about these challenges? Our elected officials are trying their hardest, so let’s help them out and give them good ideas if we have them. It is far easier to criticize than to create, so what are the things we can do to make this better? What suggestions can we make to our elected officials to further the conversation?

Ellynn June 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I find working with rural school sytems both rewarding and heartbreaking. They don’t have the spending in theses counties to make Esplost work. They stay because even though they can hardly survive in the small home their family has owned for generations, it’s still more affordable then moving towards a larger city. It’s not much but it’s theirs.

The roads are under funded. Some schools have wash out days instead of snow days. A good storm that might leave a days worth of standing water in typical suburb yard will make the gravel roads unpassible for a school bus until it’s regraded. The paved road with a broken down bridge can force a 10 mile detour unless you have a four wheel drive or a tracter. There are sections of the state with little internet service and television is possible only by satalite. We drive by their exit signs with their names, we see the little dots on our Google maps. Some times we stop for gas if we have to, but in most cases we pass through and wait until we get to the next big town 50 miles down the road.

Yet we need these people if Georgia as a state is to flurish. They grow our food, cut all that lovely southern yellow pine, watch over our hunting grounds and make sure the waterways flow.

The irony here is when their children leave, the crops will still need to come in, but now the fields are worked by emigrants. When they have saved enough, they will buy the old homes no one wants, because to them it’s the dream, it their piece of land that they now own. It’s not much but its theirs.

MattMD June 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

How on God’s green earth do you get “Toliver” from Taliaferro?

Phonetic Tol-a-ver, right?

Scarlet Hawk June 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Good question, but one I’m afraid I cannot answer :)

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Ellynn, June 17, 2014 at 1:41 pm-

Good comments.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 17, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Good column, Ms. Hawk.