How the Minimum Foundation Program transformed the state, Part I

Note: This is the start of a series about the biggest change to ever hit Georgia public school education, the Minimum Foundation Program.

With most of the action happening in the 1950s, the Minimum Foundation Program completely reshaped school systems throughout the states, building new or adding to thousands of schools. It caused widespread consolidation of white high schools and eliminated more than 75 percent of black schools over a 10-year span, from 1949-50 to 1959-60.

How did it happen and why was it so huge?

We’ll start in the years before the Minimum Foundation’s school building program began.

Georgia schools had no money in the 1940s.

There was a teacher pay crisis at the state level in 1939-40.

Upson County borrowed $5,000 to pay its educators in April 1940 when the state failed. Teachers in Bacon County in 1939 were working in March despite being owed 2.5 months of salary. The county school system had previously paid one month of it.

Wartime made funds tighter.

Despite Barney High winning its second straight state boys basketball championship in 1944, Brooks County closed the school and sent the children to Morven High.

Brooks couldn’t pay extra teacher salaries after the state dropped the allotment granted to the system because of falling attendance. At Dixie High, also in Brooks County, home economics and agriculture classes were also dropped at that time because of the lack of money available.

The end of the war resulted in a boom – particularly a baby boom – but Georgia’s schools were in bad shape.

Overcrowding was a major problem.

In 1950, Clinch County estimated the 500 students in the Homerville school were double what the building was designed to hold.

Telfair barracks (LAOSATAT)
Old military barracks were the entirety of the classroom buildings at Telfair County’s Ocmulgee School in 1949, which served grades 1-11 (later 1-12). Ocmulgee had burned, but Telfair lacked the funds to rebuild on its own, necessitating the use of the barracks. (Photo from Look At Our Schools! 1949 … as they are today)

At the complete northern end of the state, Chatsworth was having to use space at the First Baptist Church, in addition to its grammar school regular classrooms, an auditorium and “other space” because of needed classrooms in 1948.

Murray County had passed a $175,000 bond, but there was bickering in the county that $40,500 was going to Chatsworth Grammar.

The April 26, 1948 Chatsworth Times reported:

“The Board of Education is making every effort to spread and stretch the $175,000.00 bond money to take care of the greatest needs in schools over the county. The trust is at least $500,000.00 is needed to put Murray County’s schools in first class shape, Mr. [Superintendent Ray] Bagley stated. The $175,000.00 is being distributed as fairly among the schools as the board thinks it can possibly be done.”

The $40,500 going to Chatsworth Grammar wasn’t even close to filling all of its needs. The school was still going to lack a lunchroom as there wasn’t enough money to build one. The system was stretching its dime to get six classrooms, a library, an office and two restrooms in the deal.

Money was scarce in other ways, too.

Haralson County was so broke in April 1949 that it wanted to stop school bus services.

The Haralson County Tribune described how dire the situation was in its April 28, 1949 edition:

“County School Superintendent Ernest H. Goldin informed [The Haralson County Tribune] a few days ago that it would utterly be impossible to pay transportation costs of the buses in this country next term and for that reason several of the country schools would be reopened to take care of the children in their immediate vicinities. It will mean that a lot of the children who have been riding the buses will either walk to school or their parents will have to transport them.

“”We have gone just as far as we can. In fact, we have scraped the bottom of the barrel, and on top of that, the county system is in debt,” so said Supt. Goldin.”

Goldin and the county school board appealed to State School Superintendent M.D. Collins. Collins said no funds were available to help, adding that he was getting requests from other small school systems.

In June, however, Haralson and Goldin were informed they must run buses if they planned on having schools. State officials said the buses were “integral” to school operations.

With little money to fund new buildings or anything else in their systems, counties were not exactly building schools to grow with the future.

Hazlehurst High burned in 1947. When the new high school – christened Jeff Davis – opened in September 1949, 302 students were put into 15 regular classrooms. Barely two years later, a school survey finished in January 1952 was already recommending a new high school.

The 1952 committee noted about the 1949 Jeff Davis High, “The present site is not expandable appreciably and should not have any more buildings added to it.”

Ringgold Grammar added six classrooms in 1951. The building burned in 1954 and was almost immediately under reconstruction. When the plans were announced in early 1955 for Catoosa County’s building program, Ringgold Grammar already needed 10 more classrooms.

And few were stepping in for black schools.

When money was being spent, almost all tended to go to white schools.

Middle Hill was one of 41 black schools in Washington County when the Minimum Foundation Program began. Because of delays in the county’s building projects when white Tennille High wasn’t keen on consolidating, Middle Hill operated in this building through the 1957-58 school year. By virtue of being (at least) two teachers, Middle Hill was larger than 54 percent of black schools in the state, which had one teacher in 1950. The building was assuredly nicer than most, too. Middle Hill’s old school building is being used by the church of the same name, the box air conditioning units a later addition.

A lawsuit was hanging over Irwin County’s head in 1950 over conditions at black schools (dismissed in December 1950). In June 1950, voters approved bonds to improve schools in the county, namely the building of a new consolidated white high school.

The bonds approved issued $130,000 for the white high school, $20,000 for improvements at Irwinville, $5,000 each for white schools at Mystic and Holt and $30,000 to replace the black high school.

Even with a lawsuit that threatened to change the very fabric of the county’s being, Irwin felt compelled to only spend 16 percent of the bond on black students. And all of that percentage was going to one building. Irwin County operated 11 black schools as of June 1950, according to the Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the Department of Education.

In October 1948, Mitchell County’s Board of Education refused to even provide windows or doors for the African-American Greenough School.

A committee from Greenough asked for 22 windows and seven doors for the buildings, which they said did not have any. After discussing the matter, the board told the committee to ask around in the community and “make out somehow as there were no funds available for work on school buildings.”

(Later in the same report, the Mitchell BOE was said to sell two old school buses for $1,000. New buses had recently been purchased. The Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports, in giving its report on school bus transportation for each county, noted that Mitchell County’s school system provided no buses for black students.)

Clearly education in Georgia was underfunded and unequal. There had to be a remedy to fix horrible situations occurring all over the state.

Sources: The Macon Telegraph – April 28, 1940; The Alma Times – March 23, 1939; The Quitman Free Press – Aug. 31, 1944; Clinch County News – March 3, 1950; Jeff Davis County Ledger – Sept. 22, 1949, Jan. 10, 1952; The Ocilla Star – June 1, 1950, Dec. 28, 1950; The Chatsworth Times – Aug. 26, 1948; The Haralson County Tribune – Apr. 28, 1949, June 2, 1949; The Catoosa County News – Aug. 2, 1951, Jan. 20, 1955; The Camilla Enterprise – Oct. 8, 1948; Seventy-Eighth and Seventy-Ninth Annual Reports of the Department of Education; Report on Georgia Schools (1960); Look At Our Schools! 1949 … as they are today.


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