School Funding

Georgia lawmakers review changes to funding for K-12 schools

By JEFF AMY, Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — The head of a state legislative committee examining how Georgia funds K-12 public schools promised Friday that nothing “catastrophic and ominous” would come from possible changes.

Almost 40 years after the then government. Joe Frank Harris signed the Quality Basic Education Formula into law, Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan told members of a Senate committee it was time to consider whether changes were needed.

“QBE was done over 40 years ago,” the Carrollton Republican said. “The way we educate our children has changed during this time and what this committee needs to look at is whether we are allocating resources to the areas of education that are most appropriate today.”

The move comes at what, in some ways, is a good time for Georgia’s $10 billion funding formula. The state has fully funded the formula for four of the last five years after 16 years in which it imposed austerity cuts every year. The formula is used to calculate how much money the state should provide to each of Georgia’s 181 school districts to give them enough money to provide a good education for 1.7 million students. Over the 16 years, the state would only provide a portion of the total amount, saying it needed to cut spending to balance the state budget.

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But there are lingering problems with the QBE formula. It provides only a small fraction of what districts spend to buy and operate school buses. Other than employee salaries, other costs are rarely adjusted for inflation. The state, for example, allocates $150 per teacher to pay for what is supposed to be eight sick days. When the formula was written, schools relied heavily on textbooks, whereas now they increasingly rely on electronic materials. And Georgia has yet to fully fund a previous school counselor-per-student upgrade.

Georgia’s formula already provides additional funding for students with special educational needs, students learning English, students in need of remedial, those studying vocational and technical subjects, and gifted students. The formula also offers more money to young students than to high school students.

The system also gives more state money to districts with low property tax bases. Legislators will likely later consider levying local property and sales taxes. The districts also receive money from the federal government.

Some lawmakers have also expressed interest in the state providing additional funding for students experiencing poverty.

Another issue is paying teachers more. Teacher salaries in Georgia are higher than in any neighboring state. But take-home pay for first-grade teachers is lagging because state health care premiums are above average.

At least three previous attempts to revise QBE have failed, producing few meaningful changes. These revisions were dogged by the suspicion that Republicans were trying to spend less. To gain support, formula writers often seek to spend more, at least temporarily, to avoid creating losers who earn less money.

“At the end of the day, what happened each time was that they think they’re going to go for it, find savings and be able to transfer money, but they go for it and find that it will cost more,” Angela Palm said. lobbyist with the Georgia School Boards Association.

Dugan encouraged people to be open to possible changes.

“Humans by nature fear change more than they fear failure,” Dugan said. “And failure in my mind doesn’t matter when we have the opportunity to improve the quality of our education for our students in the future.”

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