When Georgia lawmakers created the formula to pay for its public schools, President Ronald Reagan was celebrating the start of his second term, Purple Rain tapes were flying off the shelves, and kids were hogging family televisions with their state-of-the-art. Nintendo entertainment systems.
The White House has changed occupants six times since then, and the average high school student now carries more computing power in their pocket than any computer of the day, but the Quality Basic Education Act of 1985 continues to guide the state by distributing nearly $11 billion to the state’s 1.6 million public school students. Georgia’s total population has roughly doubled to 11 million since 1985.
Although the formula has a long shelf life, it is not universally loved. Even in years when the formula is fully funded — and it was underfunded between 2002 and 2017 — critics say the formula denies flexibility to administrators and unfairly sends resources to wealthier districts. Past attempts to modernize the formula were abandoned in the face of political turbulence.
In the coming months, state lawmakers are gearing up to reconsider QBE. The Senate study committee examining education funding mechanisms is scheduled to hold three meetings across the state this fall to seek input on a possible revision to the formula. The first is scheduled for Aug. 18 at the Atlanta State Capitol, with meetings in Savannah and Columbus scheduled to follow in September and October.
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Under the formula, each district receives money weighted by factors such as the number of students enrolled and their grade levels and their participation in programs such as gifted or special education.
The system has its flaws, said Stephen Owens, education policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Georgia is one of six states that does not allocate specific dollars to educate students living in poverty, he said. And while almost everyone is dealing with inflation, most people only have to worry about filling up the family car, not a fleet of school buses.
“The Governor and Legislature have poured money into the modified (budget) for transportation for the past two years, and it’s been very helpful, but we need a systematic change in how it’s funded” , did he declare. “Costs continue to increase year on year, but the amount of funding for buses, drivers, monitors has remained the same since the year 2000. I know this is something that keeps finance people from from school to sleep at night.”
Over the past two decades, public school enrollment has increased by about a quarter of a million students, but the amount of funding for student transportation has stayed about the same, he said. .
The education stipend formula is generally sound when fully funded, said Margaret Ciccarelli, director of legislative services for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, but there is always room for improvement.
More money for school transportation will be among the improvements she suggested for the committee, as will the addition of money for school counsellors.
School counselors are funded at the rate of one for every 450 students in Georgia, while the recommended ratio is one for every 250 students, according to PAGE, and when it comes to paying counselors, state dollars don’t not follow all students.
“Schools are earning QBE for gifted, and especially special, classes, and currently they’re not earning counselors for those students,” Ciccarelli said. “Currently, with the growing mental health needs as a result of the pandemic, it is critical to fill these counselor positions.”
During this year’s Georgia School Safety and Homeland Security Conference, Governor Brian Kemp announced millions of dollars in new grants for schools to make schools safer, and school safety could be a major talking point for QBE’s changes, Ciccarelli said.
“School safety, school mental health and school climate are part of the same bucket,” she said. “We need more school safety measures like school hardening, infrastructure upgrades, which should be considered part of the QBE, and mental health supports to include these counselors.”
This isn’t the first time the state has considered big changes to how the state calculates how to allocate K-12 funding. Former Governor Nathan Deal has made revising the formula an important part of his educational platform.
Cobb County Republican Senator Lindsey Tippins, who is appointed to the current panel, also served on a study committee during Deal’s administration in 2015.
“The objective was, to the best of my knowledge, to remove the QBE formula and come up with a new formula all together,” he said. “I thought it was a bit of a dangerous business because it seemed to me that management was giving X amount of dollars per student and each student would be funded at the same level. This is not possible in education because the level of student need has different cost drivers in delivering the different programs that may be required. Any program that has a lab-like environment or hands-on equipment, those types of programs use more funding, and that’s one thing I love about the QBE program is that it breaks it down.
Tippins, who is leaving the Legislative Assembly at the end of the year, said he would enter the process with an open mind, but would need to be persuaded before endorsing an entirely new formula.
“I’m not ruling out adopting a different formula, but I want to make sure that from the perspective of adequate cost coverage, it doesn’t just have to be a different formula, it has to be s ‘act of a better formula’, he said. “And I think we need input from educators who are in the process of providing education, to look at the proposed work and see if it’s practical. Also, clear and valid reasons why or why the replacement formula would be superior to the existing formula. On anything, I am not in favor of change for change’s sake.
Tippins, a former member of the Cobb school board, has served as a Senate education policy leader since being elected in 2010, and the other members of the committee are also influential lawmakers. The committee will be led by Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan and will include Education Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Payne, Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Blake Tillery, Sen. Billy Hickman and Sen. Nan Orrock, the Democratic caucus secretary and the only Democrat on the committee. .
Owens declined to predict whether this change attempt will go any better than previous ones, but he said Dugan picked a strong team for the job.
“If they want to do something out of it, they’re the right people to have,” Owens said. “These are serious legislators in positions of power, so they are well equipped to achieve what they want to do, whatever it is.”