Staff Writer

It’s easy to see all the progress being made in education at the local level, from new construction to new classes offered.

But what’s been happening at the Georgia Assembly this year has also been key to the progress of education in the county.

So far, the state legislature is on track to approve a 3 percent pay increase for teachers and other state employees, and is planning on pumping even more money into state school systems.

A key player both in allocating money at the state level and in championing local causes has been state representative Terry England, chair of the appropriations committee and a member of a recent education committee set up by Governor Nathan Deal to find new approaches to statewide education goals.

The key item the state provides to school systems is simple: Money.

As England reported in a recent column, house bill 751, which started in his appropriations committee and calls for $23.7 billion in state appropriations for fiscal year 2017, sets aside more than half of that money for education spending.

“We are including enough additional money for school systems to give teachers and other school employees — such as school bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school nurses — 3-percent pay hikes,” England said in a recent column. “HB 751 also increases funding for colleges and universities, as well as for Georgia’s popular scholarships —  without raising tuition.”

That means more money than the year before, as the state continues to improve after the lean years of the recession. For the Barrow County School System, it means more money for a variety of needs.

“The FY 17 budget includes $300 million to backfill the QBE Austerity Reductions as well as money for support personnel raises,” England said in an email to the Barrow County News. “The recession hit Georgia hard and we are still working to financially recover from the reductions needed to maintain a balanced budget here on the State level.”

England has held up the importance of a balanced budget but also the value of new educational opportunities. His support was key in the establishment of both Sims Academy of Innovation of Technology and the new Lanier Technical College campus south of Highway 316.

The new money for FY17 may not bring about those very visible changes, but more money pumped into the system is nonetheless progress, as local school districts, including Barrow, can fill needed positions and give needed raises as the system continues to grow.

England, as always will be in the mix on educational issues, as he made clear in a letter announcing his intentions to run again for his house seat.

“This week, the final adjustments to the FY 2017 state appropriations bill will be made. Now that we have received the version passed by the Senate, I will begin final negotiations with the Senate and House leaderships and with the Governor’s Office,” he said earlier in the week. “I will continue to advocate for K-12 funding, better access to higher education, keeping our communities safe, and making Georgia even more business friendly to both small businesses and large job creators.”