Judge rules Ga. school funding suit can be heard - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Judge rules Ga. school funding suit can be heard

By Wainwright Jeffers - bio | email

August 13, 2008

FITZGERALD, GA (WALB) - Many south Georgia school systems say they don't get their fair share of state money, and they worry state budget cuts will hurt them even more.

They filed a lawsuit that claims Georgia's system of funding schools treats small, poor counties unfairly.

Attorneys for the state asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit.

On Monday a that judge denied the request, allowing the suit to be heard in court.

The Ben Hill County School System is one of the primary plaintiffs in the case, and leaders there are happy with the ruling.

As the Fitzgerald High School Football team bumps heads on the football field, the school system bumps heads with the state in courtroom, challenging the constitutionality of Georgia's system of public school financing.

"Our belief is it's constitution and obligation of the state to provide adequate funding for all students irrespective of where they live," Dr. John Key, Ben Hill County Superintendent.

The group of schools filed the suit in November of 2004, alleging the system failed to provide students with 'adequate education.' the state's effort to dismiss the case was denied.

"We were actually jubilant that this occurred because, number one we feel we're right. Number two we can't understand why the state is not willing to settle this situation we really have no desire to sue the state," said Key.

Fitzgerald High School had to reduce staff last school year because of a lack of money, and now they worry state budget cuts will hurt students even more.

"The irony of this situation is that the state is saying we're going to go ahead and fund the pay raise but we're going to cut you 2%. And give you a 2.5% pay raise, basically they're giving it to you in one hand and taking it away in the other," said Key.

And the High School principal says there's no way local taxpayers can make up that difference.

"In the tough economic times it's hard for us as a school district to ask the citizens to provide dollars, and that's why we also depend on the state of Georgia to also fund our local schools," said Principal Morris Leis, Fitzgerald High School.

School leaders say any more cuts will affect student performance, and they want to avoid that at all costs.

The school district told said Ben Hill simply can't raise enough money from millage rates like the larger counties in metro Atlanta.

If the small school systems win their lawsuit, the state could have to funnel more than a billion dollars into education.

That suit is scheduled to go to trial October 21st.

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