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