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At Delta HQ, Clayton Co. Students Protest Repeal Of Jet Fuel Tax

Hundreds of Clayton County high school students protested outside Delta Headquarters Tuesday. Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley is shown with the students.
Hundreds of Clayton County high school students protested outside Delta Headquarters Tuesday. Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley is shown with the students.
Credit Lisa Hagen / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

Hundreds of Clayton County high school students protested outside Delta Headquarters Tuesday morning against a state bill school officials say threatens an estimated $18 million of their school funding over the next two years.

House bill 821 would repeal the state tax on jet fuel. It would cut costs for airlines like Delta and has the full support of Gov. Nathan Deal. The bill would also bring Georgia in line with a Federal Aviation Administration ruling from three years ago, which prohibits jet fuel tax revenue being used for anything unrelated to aviation. That means means no funds should go to local governments, or school systems.

“The removal of those funds would give us a hole in our capital improvement program of roughly $10 million a year,” Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley said. It’s his first year in the role.

The school system said that’s about a fifth of its budget. If the bill passes, CCPS said it will end a lawsuit it filed against the FAA challenging its jet fuel tax ruling.

In all, some 600 hundred high school students from 11 schools got parent permission to protest at Delta, which would benefit from the bill passing.

“We’re out here to protest against the decision to take away our funding from our Clayton County public high schools, an estimated $9 million each year,” said 11th grader Aerial Jessie, from Mundy’s Mill High School.

A different group of 800 students protested at the state capitol Monday.

After students demonstrated in front of the headquarters, Delta officials directed them to their on-site museum and served them Chick-Fil-A sandwiches while representatives met privately with Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley.
After students demonstrated in front of the headquarters, Delta officials directed them to their on-site museum and served them Chick-fil-A sandwiches while representatives met privately with Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Morcease Beasley. (Lisa Hagen/WABE)

“This is school,” said Beasley, asked why the students were pulled out of school to protest. “They’re learning how the political process works. They’re learning how it’s important to stand up for what’s right. They’re learning how this is a good cause, their cause, in their community. So I call this experiential learning.” He said he hasn’t heard any complaints from parents.

Governor Deal says Georgia needs the bill to bring the state into federal compliance, and boost economic development.

“Most of our competitor airports do not have that tax,” said Deal. He said he believes airlines will use the money saved on fuel taxes to schedule more direct overseas flights, which will make Georgia more attractive to business. Deal said he worries the state could be on the hook for revenue that’s been going to Clayton County if the FAA decided to aggressively enforce its rule.

Delta spokesperson Anthony Black said almost 15% of the company’s employees live in Clayton County.

“We need pilots. We need flight attendants. We need management. So to have them here, hopefully this is an inspiration to them. We always encourage students to come here,” said Black.

After students demonstrated in front of their headquarters, Delta directed them to their on-site museum and fed them Chick-fil-A sandwiches while representatives met privately with Superintendent Beasley.

Black said Delta is working with Clayton Schools and Governor Deal to find a solution but gave no further detail.

Johnny Kauffman contributed to this report.