All about education

Georgia State University's downtown campus is illuminated at night after news of merger with Georgia Perimeter College. Photo by David Tulis/AJC Special
Georgia State University's downtown campus is illuminated at night after news of merger with Georgia Perimeter College. Photo by David Tulis/AJC Special

Gov. Nathan Deal recently unveiled a proposed $21.8 billion that, thanks to rosy financial projections, includes extra money to spend and more money in reserves.

More than half of the $950 million increase in state spending would go to education, from colleges to schooling for prison inmates. About $11 million is included for raises in the university system – all just months after a hectic campaign season that saw education funding as a top issue.

PolitiFact Georgia will stay on top of claims surrounding some of the proposals and plans as lawmakers hash out spending for approval by late March or early April.

Some of the claims already vetted are below.

MERGER MATH

The University System of Georgia has been consolidating some of its 35 colleges and universities since 2011. The largest such merger, of Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta and the suburban Georgia Perimeter College, is slated to be done in 2016.

The GSU Alumni Association sent a mass email out about the plan, saying the move will make GSU one of the largest universities in the nation, with more than 54,000 students.

A consolidated school would have 53,927 students, if the 21,371 students who attended Georgia Perimeter last fall were put on GSU's rolls.

That would put GSU's enrollment well above UGA's and tops in the state by more than 20,000, based on current data.

Enrollment is forecast to go above 54,000 by 2016, based on normal growth.

That would make the combined university one of the largest in the nation for colleges with traditional brick-and-mortar campuses.

We rate the alumni association's statement True

WHO HAS BEEN PAYING?

Officials in the governor’s administration said Deal will, in two years, have cut in half the annual austerity spending cuts built into the state Education Department budget for a decade.

But those years of cuts have taken their toll, forcing many of the state’s local school districts to furlough workers, increase class sizes and make other cuts to make ends meet.

An education policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said they also have contributed to a shift in who is paying for K-12 education in Georgia.

Claire Suggs said that the state covered a smaller percentage of those costs in 2013 than it did in 2002.

Records from the state Department of Education shows that k-12 education costs totaling about $10.4 billion in Fiscal 2002 were split three ways: with 56 percent covered by the state, 38 percent by locals and 6 percent by the federal government.

In Fiscal 2013, the costs were $14.2 billion, and the split was 51 percent state funds, 41 percent local and 8 percent federal.

But the statement needs context about the economic times and the federal stimulus dollars that were available in this period.

We rated the claim Mostly True.

THE GAP IN COLLEGE CREDENTIALS

The link between jobs and education was the focus of a claim by University System Chancellor Hank Huckaby in a civic club speech earlier this month.

As state officials push to graduate more students from the state’s technical schools, colleges and universities, Huckaby said only 42 percent of young Georgians have a college certificate or degree. But soon, he said, 60 percent of jobs will require some kind of college credential.

Indeed, a Complete College America report found Georgia with a 27 percent skills gap. It research showed forecasts that 61 percent of the state's jobs in 2020 would require a career certificate or college degree and, at the time, only 34 percent of Georgia adults had an associate degree or higher.

A 2011 analysis from the University System of Georgia and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found that 42 percent of Georgians had college experience.

At the time, 20.9 percent had bachelor's degrees; 8.2 percent had graduate or professional degrees; 6.7 percent had associate degrees; and 6.6 percent had certificates from college programs that were at least one year, but less than two years.

We rated the statement as True.