Georgia schools were in rough shape in the 1940s.
Schools were overcrowded, conditions were mostly bad and systems were broke.
The state’s educational performance was among the bottom in the United States and a movement was on the rise to create adequate education for citizens.
Starting in 1948, this push was referred to as the Minimum Foundation Program. It was seen as a new beginning.
Look At Our Schools! 1949 … as they are today laid out what State Superintendent of Schools M.D. Collins felt was essential to the program.
In short, Collins proposed:
– An increase in teachers’ salaries. He suggested a minimum of $2,400 per year for an educator with a four-year college degree. (In June 1948, the minimum salary was $1,600.)
– Minimum salary for bus drivers.
– Money for school systems to build new schools.
– Funding the 12th grade (which was being erratically added in school systems).
– Providing state funds to match federal funds for vocational programs.
– Area trade schools.
– Further expanding libraries into rural areas.
– Further aid for adult vocational rehabilitation.
– A hot lunch at school for every child.
– State funds for veterans’ education.
– Equalization of school buildings.
Teachers’ salaries were considered low at that time. Dr. Ralph Newton of Mercer University noted in late 1948 that “1,400 teachers left Georgia last year to make better salaries in Florida, Alabama and North Carolina.”
Only 250 teachers graduated in 1948 from Georgia colleges.
For rural Georgia, the most impactful of the propositions would be the school building program.
The program, whose initial suggested funding was $83 million, had the backing of Governor M.E. Thompson. Addressing graduates at the Georgia State College for Women, he said it was necessary for student education.
Gubernatorial candidate Herman Talmadge included the Minimum Foundation Program as part of his platform. Talmadge said it was “good business.”
The Minimum Foundation’s early support was nearly universal. Getting it rolling took even longer.
Unfortunately, it would be up to the 1949 Georgia General Assembly to vote on it. Worse, the earliest it could be enacted was September 1949.
The General Assembly looked at the Minimum Foundation Program in 1949, part of its final week of session. The House of Representatives were unanimous in initially approving it, but the Senate did not like the amendments with it. The Senate was instead working on a substitute bill.
The Minimum Foundation was put to the ballot in April 1949, as part of a $46 million tax referendum, which would have also included improvements to roads and health services. Taxes would have increased under the bill, which was soundly defeated. Gov. Talmadge had refused to give an opinion on the issue.
In January 1950, the bill still wasn’t financed and in late March, now-Gov. Talmadge said he “will place the Minimum Foundation Program for Education for our State of Georgia during the coming school year, God willing.”
Talmadge opposed summer sessions of the legislature so it appeared that the earliest the MFP would be funded was in January 1951. It was taking so long to get funded that Thompson was making it part of his platform for governor in 1950.
Worse, neither Talmadge nor Thompson was even sure where the state would get the money to fund it.
At a debate organized by the Georgia Education Association in June 1950, both candidates were asked about Minimum Foundation funding.
Talmadge said he did not want to burden the people of Georgia and suggested revising the tax code.
Thompson said, “We will provide genuine and homes tax revision. This includes repeal of the state property levy of 198 miscellaneous nuisance taxes and of the sales sax on cigarettes and gasoline enacted in 1949. We will pass a simple sales tax to make up for these tax losses and provide the additional funds required.”
Though the bill had not passed yet, the reach of the Minimum Foundation Program for Georgia was being noted nationwide, especially for what it would accomplish in the means of segregation.
A national UP wire story from November 1950 said it was the needed improvement of black schools that was giving it the extra push.
There were the lawsuits brewing in a few counties. One in Irwin County was still active in November and would not be dismissed for another month.
A Texas case, Herman Sweatt was barred for attending law school at the University of Texas because of race.
There was a law school for black students, but NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall pointed out, it was not of the same quality as that of the University of Texas. The case was filed in 1946.
When finally heard by the Supreme Court, the decision was unanimous he be allowed to enroll at the University of Texas.
A black student was enrolled in classes in the South with white students. Separate but equal and segregation had taken a blow.
So far, noted an article printed in the Oelwein (Ia.) Daily Register, Georgia had not been called before the Supreme Court about school conditions. But conditions were awful and Georgia could easily be the home of the next big case to hit the nation.
Funding finally came through from the general assembly in 1951, which raised the yearly appropriation for education from $51 milltion to $81 million. It also set up a “state school building authority” to lease state-built buildings to local boards of education. The estimate of the cost of this program in March 1951 was $180 million. That figure would soon prove to be a low one.
(A 1952 estimate was set at $140 million, even when the first 29 systems approved for funds came in at $32 million.)
Collins, of course, was elated by the passage.
“A new era in education will begin with the implementation of this legislation,” he said in a wire item reprinted by The Butler Herald. “The time has come for us to review our efforts in providing more and better education for the children of Georgia.”
The state was ever mindful that the program could discriminate on the basis of the race and set parameters.
Noted one state board member in an Associated Press article printed in the Waycross Journal-Herald, money, “would be spent on white schools in preference to Negro schools,” unless funding was monitored.
One solution, the article said, was to “let the money follow the teacher.” An example given was to set aside the same amount of money per teacher. If a school system, it said, had 40 educators and 30 were white and 10 were black, $8,000 would go to the system, with $6,000 for white schools and $2,000 for black.
If one race’s schools were up-to-date, a system could request those funds go to the other race.
The State School Building Authority was upheld in a test case in January 1952 (on grounds that it created state debt and property was exempted from taxation).
Finally, It was time to reform Georgia’s school systems.
Sources: Houston Home Journal – Apr. 15, 1948, July 22, 1948, Dec. 2, 1948; The Butler Herald – June 10, 1948, Feb. 17, 1949, Apr. 7, 1949, Jan. 26, 1950, Mar. 30, 1950, May 4, 1950, June 8, 1950, Mar. 8, 1950; Oelwein Daily Register (Ia.) – Nov. 16, 1950; Waycross Journal-Herald – May 17, 1951; Rome News-Tribune – Jan. 15, 1952, Aug. 28, 1952; Look At Our Schools! 1949 … as they are today