Ehrhart plans to restore funds

Published 2:42 pm Friday, November 20, 2009

Attention, National Board Certified teachers in Georgia who got hosed by the state in the last legislative session: I think I have found the guy in the white hat that plans to ride to the rescue. And he is a good one to have on the horse.

His name is Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Cobb County). This is not a back-bencher we are talking about here. He is the chairman of the House Rules Committee and a powerful member of the political inner circle in our state who is going to be around long after Gov. Sonny Perdue is drowning worms on Lake Woebegone.

Ehrhart contacted me after reading my column expressing dismay with the governor, members of the Legislature and state Department of Education bureaucrats who saw nothing wrong with reneging on their pledge to pay certified teachers the yearly bonus they had been promised if they went to the time, effort and expense to become nationally certified. That group, incidentally, includes my son-in-law, Ted Wansley, a science teacher at Whitewater High School in Fayette County.

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Restoring the funding for certified teachers is a “major priority next session,” Ehrhart told me. “I intend to see it fully authorized in the next supplemental budget.”

He says he is working with the chair of the education committee, Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) on statutory language that will “set in stone going forward” the stipend for those teachers who have gained national board certification. That it wasn’t, he says, is “offensive” to him. Ehrhart likens the responsibility the state has to these teachers as being akin to retirement obligations.

I am going out on a limb here, folks, because politicians can say one thing and do another better than a 6-year-old in a time-out chair. In this case, I happen to believe Earl Ehrhart because he looked me in the eye and said he was going to do it and that it should never have been dropped out of the budget in the first place. He also said the state’s budget woes will preclude any opportunity to reinstitute the national board certification program for the foreseeable future.

Ehrhart is not a happy camper about the lawsuit filed in Fulton Superior Court by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. He calls the lawsuit “counterproductive” and “almost as bad as not funding the program” and worries that it will make his job harder by providing a convenient excuse to those who don’t want to restore the money.

PAGE, on the other hand, is unapologetic about its actions.

Tim Callahan, the organization’s director of public relations and membership, says, “With regard to Rep. Ehrhart’s comments, I guess I’m missing something. How can the same legislators who voted to kill the program, cut its funding and reduce the supplement to that of a beginning teacher now say that our lawsuit is making it difficult for them to undo the damage they did last session? We clearly communicated to the legislature the harm they would be doing and the likelihood that if they went ahead we might challenge them. It seems a bit disingenuous to now suggest that the lawsuit is the problem. The problem is their unwillingness to do the right thing by our best educators.”

Surely, something can be done behind the scenes to keep this dispute from escalating and hurting the very people that both Ehrhart and PAGE want to help.

As we were leaving, I mentioned to Ehrhart that I had stated in a previous column that teachers don’t trust politicians and for good reason. So, I asked, why should they trust you?

“Tell them to see if I do what I said I was going to do,” he replied.

Fair enough. I have a feeling that the teachers are going to do just that.

On another matter: Kudos to House Speaker Glenn Richardson for having the courage to admit that he was fighting depression and that it almost drove him to suicide. That took a lot of guts on his part. It isn’t easy for us macho men to admit to such things. I wish him well.