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Governor's commission on school funding to meet for first time. Anybody expect much?

The Governor’s Education Reform Commission will hold its first meeting Thursday at 9:30 a.m. in the Oak Conference Room at the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. The funding sub-committee will meet afterward in Capitol Room 107 for its first meeting.

Gov. Nathan Deal will give his charge to the committee, which was created to study the state’s education system, including its funding formula, and provide recommendations to improve the system, increase access to early learning programs, recruit and retain high-quality instructors and expand school options.

Deal announced the members in January. There are five county superintendents including Fulton’s Robert Avossa and Gwinnett’s J. Alvin Wilbanks. There are 10 legislators, mostly the usual suspects. There are several charter school advocates and a few folks from the higher education sphere.

Among the criticisms being made about the makeup of the committee:

-At 33 members, it’s too big to accomplish anything. By the time they take roll call, share a few sub-committee reports and refill their coffee cups, it will be time to adjourn.

-It’s frontloaded with choice advocates.

-It doesn’t have enough educators who are in the classroom right now.

-It has too little representation from Georgia’s small districts.

As one rural school chief told me:

The Education Reform Commission has a monumental task that will affect education in Georgia for decades to come. Considering the current funding formula is 30 years old this year, I applaud the Governor's decision to tackle this issue at this time.

I must say I am a little disappointed that the smallest public school district with active representation on the commission is Appling County (FY14 FTE = 3,444).

Interestingly, Appling is ranked 89th of 180 public school districts in size, which means over one half (91/180 = 50.6%) of the districts have no representation on the commission, and I would argue those are the districts needing representation the most.

Small, rural systems where agriculture is the dominant industry face challenges that differ greatly from the metro systems' challenges, so I hope someone will step forward to be our voice on the commission.

Georgia has assembled at least four blue ribbon commissions in the past to explore school funding and offer recommendations on how much the state should spend on its schools.  They all ran into dead ends when their research indicated the state needed to spend more on schools to improve outcomes.

The last committee danced around that finding by offering systems more flexibility with funding rather than more funding. But utility companies, technology providers and heating and air conditioning repair services tend to prefer cash to flexibility.

I am not optimistic this committee will offer a radical fix although it has a few truth tellers in the mix.

The question will be whether Deal is willing to hear the truth.



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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.