A subcommittee of the Governor's Education Reform Commission examining how Georgia funds schools finalized recommendations today that will be considered by the full commission on Nov. 19.
While the recommended overhaul means more money for Georgia schools, it does not offer as much funding as schools would be getting if the current formula was faithfully followed. However, the state has never fully funded the Quality Basic Education Act.
As the AJC's Ty Tagami reports today: (See story for more detail on recommendations.)
A committee working for Deal is recommending changes that would add $258 million to the education budget, a 3 percent increase over this year’s amount, more than $8 billion.
Teacher advocates and other observers lament that this proposal puts less into education than the current formula would, if the state funded it properly. The new formula would increase the state contribution to schools to $8.47 billion. That’s around a quarter of a billion dollars less than the existing formula requires. Georgia has been shorting its schools since 2003, by so-called “austerity” cuts.
Under the proposal, new teachers would be paid according to whatever pay-for-performance model each district selects. Districts would get the same amount for each teacher, except current teachers who would be grandfathered under the traditional pay scale. The traditional scale pays more for years of experience and credentials obtained.
Schools would get extra money to teach each gifted student, each “economically disadvantaged” student and each student whose native language is not English. However, each gifted student would be worth an extra $750 — more than each of the other two combined, committee member Lindsey Tippins said. The Republican state senator and former school board member from Cobb County said he didn’t think it cost that much to provide gifted services. He tried to shift that funding to all students in fourth and fifth grade, reasoning that those years are crucial for learning math. His proposal failed
Taifa Butler, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute executive director, and Claire Suggs, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute senior education policy analyst, submitted this brief to the commission on what they feel needs to be considered before the Legislature adopts a new funding formula.
From: Taifa Butler and Claire Suggs
To: The Education Reform Commission
Gov. Nathan Deal assigned you and your fellow members of the Education Reform Commission’s funding committee an ambitious task: to develop a funding formula that gives school district leaders flexibility to better use state money to improve student learning. Committee members are devoting much time and careful consideration to develop recommendations that fulfill the governor’s request.
The proposed formula, however, raises concerns because it continues austerity cuts, maintains reductions to transportation funding, and lacks evaluation.
The Quality Basic Education formula has been underfunded for 14 years. At their height, from 2010 through 2014, austerity cuts topped $1 billion annually. Districts coped by cutting the school calendar, furloughing teachers and increasing class sizes. They also scaled back or even eliminated programs like art, music and elective courses and many raised local property taxes. The cuts are one reason total per student funding in Georgia is $1,601 less than the national average according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
The General Assembly reduced austerity cuts the last two years. This partial restoration has allowed most districts to return to a 180-day school calendar and eliminate furlough days. Still, an austerity cut of $466 million remains in place this year. The proposed formula, if implemented and fully funded by the General Assembly this fiscal year, would add $234 million to state funding for districts. This is a welcome addition, but it leaves an austerity cut of more than $230 million in place.
As the base for the new funding formula, this builds future funding onto a diminished level. (A better comparison is earnings calculated under the QBE and the new formula for fiscal year 2017 as that includes student enrollment growth and adjustments for teacher training and experience. Those numbers aren’t available.)
We recommend the new funding formula provide districts with the full amount determined by the QBE. The state’s goals for students are significantly higher now than they were 30 years ago when the QBE was developed. Failing to provide at a minimum the amount called for under the QBE risks leaving students without the resources needed to attain these levels.
Currently state funding for transportation is distributed to districts as a grant. Grant amounts are determined by a formula, which takes into account the specific transportation costs of each district. These costs vary widely from urban to rural districts. In the 2014 school year, districts spent an average of $457 per student for transportation. Forty districts spent $600 or more per student and four of them spent more than $1,000 per student. Busing students to and from school safely was above the state average in 116 of Georgia’s 180 districts.
On the other hand, 24 districts spent $350 or less to transport students. Like the QBE, the transportation grant formula has been underfunded for many years. In this school year, the state funds the operating cost component of the transportation formula at 17.78 percent. It is providing districts with $126 million instead of the $306 million the formula calculated. Districts must fill this gap with local tax dollars. Under the proposed formula, transportation funds will be moved into the base amount and will not be calculated separately. Including transportation money in the base gives an advantage to districts with below-average spending and hurts those with higher costs. It would also make the current funding shortfall permanent.
We recommend transportation dollars be calculated separately in the new funding model and remain outside the base student amount. We also recommend that the transportation formula be fully funded. This would allow districts to direct more of their local tax dollars to the classroom even though they would continue to pick up more than half the tab for getting students to and from school safely.
Many states conduct a review of the resources needed to enable students to reach specific outcomes when developing their school funding formulas. Such a review helps ensure that adequate funds are provided, which is critical. The majority of empirical research links funding with student outcomes. Ensuring economically disadvantaged students get sufficient resources is particularly important.
A significant new study found these students in particular benefit from increased levels of funding including improved high school graduation rates, higher wages, increases in family income as adults, and reductions in adult poverty. This study is relevant for Georgia as it has the ninth highest percentage of students participating in the federal free and reduced lunch program in the nation according to the most recent federal data.
An assessment of the cost of ensuring Georgia’s students reach the high standards the state has set was not a part of the process of developing the new formula. This leaves the question of whether or not the total amount—as well as the weighted amounts for each student category—is sufficient. This uncertainty is evident in the change to the amount allotted to economically disadvantaged students. The amount added to the base per student funding for these students in the current iteration of the proposed formula is $225, well below the $511 dedicated in an earlier version of the formula. It is unclear which, if either, is the right allotment.
Similar questions exist for the new teacher compensation model in the proposed formula. Teachers are the most influential school-based factor in student achievement. Ensuring districts are able to attract and retain effective teachers is critical.
We recommend a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of the new funding formula be undertaken after year three of implementation if it is approved by the General Assembly. This will allow legislators to reconsider total funding and revise weights as necessary to match students’ needs.
We also recommend the state continue to monitor the formula’s impact on district practice and student achievement in subsequent years. The current education funding formula held sway for 30 years. The next formula may be in place an equally long period. It is critical that it meets students’ needs in full.
Thank you for your service on the funding committee. Developing a new funding formula is a formidable task and we appreciate the time, effort, and careful consideration you are contributing.