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Governor proposes changes to school funding. Teachers say they're being ignored.

I am sharing an essay the AJC requested from the governor on his funding formula review efforts. The column by Nathan Deal ran in the Sunday AJC.

Below the Deal essay, I am publishing a response from TRAGIC , a grassroots advocacy group founded by teachers and their spouses last year to fight rising out-of-pocket heath insurance costs and benefit cuts.

TRAGIC, which stands for Teachers Rally to Advocate for Georgia Insurance Choices, played a pivotal role in forcing changes in the health plan last year, which was an election year. The group lists its membership now at 18,000 and continues to advocate for teachers.

First up is the governor.

By Nathan Deal

In the 2014 campaign --- my last ever --- I promised the people of Georgia that I'd use my second term to accomplish the tough-but-necessary work to modernize our 30-year-old school funding formula.

When it comes to teaching children in a 21st-century classroom, our laws are as out of date as jelly shoes, parachute pants and Commodore 64s. We must find the political will to chart a new, student-focused course that gives local authorities greater flexibility in addressing their districts' specific needs.

Transforming education is not without its challenges, and we need Georgia's best and brightest to help us. That's why in January, I created our Education Reform Commission, made up of teachers, legislators, administrators, community leaders and experts to review our state's education system.

Money alone does not result in improved student performance. Nationally, from 1970 to 2010, education spending increased 185 percent while performance on national exams remained stagnant. Our investment isn't getting the proper returns: Only 1 in 3 Georgia students are reading proficiently by the end of third grade. This is unacceptable.

Our k-12 education system must prepare students who are college-, career- and life-ready; in an increasingly flat world these students must be able to compete with their national and international peers. Reforming Georgia's k-12 funding formula to create a simpler, more-flexible student-based mechanism for allocating funds to districts is a key part of accomplishing these objectives.

The current formula has a number of shortcomings. It's not student-focused. For example, some student populations are more challenging to educate, and the funding formula needs to take into account the effects of poverty. Further, it was created and passed based on the unrealistic promise that state money going to local schools would grow at a rate much higher than state revenue projections. As such, the state has never fully funded the Quality Basic Education formula.

The current funding formula does not give local school district leaders the flexibility to differentiate and innovate in many areas of education, such as recruiting and retaining the most effective teachers.

Anytime you have government-budgeted funding formulas, you have entrenched interests, even when it's obvious that changes are needed. Our responsibility is to think beyond the confines of the current system, to look into the future, and to make changes that will ensure that every taxpayer dollar put toward education in Georgia will support increases in student achievement and positive outcomes, not enable the status quo. Education funding reform will remain one of my top legislative priorities throughout my term in office.

Here is the response from TRAGIC: 

Gov. Nathan Deal recently penned an editorial in the AJC titled “Formula Needs Critical Update” and it will certainly make the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Council proud.

Deal actions reveal a plan to eliminate the Quality Basic Education.  The QBE funding formula has been ignored by the Legislature since 2002 and shortchanged by $5.6 billion during Deal’s administration and by $3.2 billion during Sonny Perdue’s administration.

Deal’s editorial makes clear that he does not just plan on removing the QBE funding formula; he plans on completely remaking education in Georgia through his appointed Education Reform Commission .

According to Deal’s education policy director, Erin Hames, Deal wants to eliminate pay for teachers based on training and experience, much like the North Carolina Legislature did last year.

Judging by key phrases in his editorial such as “student-based mechanism” and “student-focused course,” Deal wants funding to follow the individual student, just as it did in the bill recently passed by the Arizona Legislature. Looking at the two constitutional amendments proposed under Deal’s administration and the composition of his reform commission --where charter school advocates (6) outnumber public school superintendents (5), public school principals (1), and active public school teachers (none)--it is clear Deal wants to grant charter schools the same access to public funds as they have in states such as Ohio and Florida.

The news out of these states is not promising for public education: North Carolina saw 14 percent of its teachers resign in one year, Arizona schools are facing a funding crisis, and Ohio and Florida have seen charter schools waste millions of dollars. It will take these state decades to undo the damage to public education caused by these ALEC-sponsored policies.

The QBE funding formula needs updating, and Georgia stakeholders in urban, suburban and rural districts should have input. Local districts and local schools need greater flexibility to innovate and better meet the needs of their unique populations.

Many school administrators, teachers or involved parents could, if asked, offer suggestions for better serving the needs of Georgia’s diverse student population. Deal has not asked any of these stakeholders, however, and that is a cause of great concern for all Georgians.

Who should have more input into the future of public education in our state, Georgia stakeholders in the public education system, or political initiatives offered by ALEC?


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About the Author

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