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Rural poverty in Georgia and the pathway to economic success is one of state's top 10 education issues looking ahead in 2020.

On Friday, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education presented its annual list of the top 10 issues and what the state's education institutions should be looking at in 2020.

Dr. Dana Rickman, vice president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said rural Georgia continues to be an area that needs to be accounted for and, as the state's economy changes, so does how people are educated.

Other issues on the list including sustaining funding for public schools, reassessing how to reach students beyond the schoolhouse and bettering the school-to-workforce pipeline.

The list is put together every year after the organization talks with educators, state leaders and others ahead of legislative sessions.

Education is always a top priority for Georgia legislators, because it accounts for such a high percentage of the state's budget.

Stephen Owens, a senior education policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said public education accounted for about 41% of the whole state budget in 2019.

One of the biggest issues facing rural Georgia, Rickman said, is the changing workforce and a shift toward automation in several industries.

Top 10 Georgia Education Issues

1. Preparing for 2030: Shifting demographics and Georgia's future

2. Early learning: Building toward the future

3. Literacy: The great equalizer

4. Funding: Ripple effects of budget cuts

5. Principal leadership: Insulating the teacher pipeline

6. Strong foundations: Standards, assessments, and accountability

7. Student success: Barriers beyond the schoolhouse

8. Rural poverty: Endangering opportunity

9. School to work: Pathways to employment

10. Beyond the diploma: Keys to post-secondary success

Source: Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education

Although technical colleges and dual-enrollment programs play a key factor in making sure students in the rural parts of the state can get a quality education, a significant number of jobs will be automated. That means the education students are receiving now or have received in the last 10 to 15 years could become obsolete.

Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, said nearly 42% of people in Georgia over age 25 have no high school diploma or similar credential.

Pruitt said the number of people who have those credentials needs to double in order to keep pace with what jobs will be available by 2030.

The number of rural students in Georgia is the third highest in the nation, and one in four Georgia students attends a rural school. Rickman said a coordinated effort involving economic revitalization, rural communities and strengthening the education pipeline is a necessary step to alleviate some of the pressures rural Georgia faces.

Funding education will be a pressing issue all session, Owens said. While Gov. Brian Kemp has called for teacher raises but a budget cut in the next two fiscal years (4% in FY20 and 6% in FY21), school districts in rural Georgia will be on the minds of many in 2020, he said.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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