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Proposed legislation would cut funds to APS, DeKalb schools. Are these crippling blows?

Is there a secret covenant among legislators to create panic in Atlanta and DeKalb schools?

Because it's working.

On Wednesday, Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen passionately questioned why the General Assembly would pursue legislation that would decimate APS funding and undermine all her efforts to overhaul struggling schools.

Carstarphen used the Carver cluster as an example, saying state takeover there would represent "a $60 million hit...that would hurt and shock every single cluster left in Atlanta Public Schools."

Voters will decide in November whether to grant the state sweeping new powers to take over local schools and absorb them into a portfolio district run by an appointee of the governor.

Carstarphen also mentioned House Bill 633, which would exempt older residents from paying Atlanta Public Schools taxes. Estimated to cost APS $23 million, the bill would grant an exemption for residents over 70.

"If both of those things happen, we might as well go home,” Carstarphen said. “You can’t absorb that kind of consistent shock.”

And there's another potential financial blow in the works.

As the AJC reported:

A DeKalb legislator is proposing a tax cut that would reduce county school system spending by $56 million a year. Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, told the county’s legislative delegation Monday that the school system’s property tax rate should be lowered to the same level as other schools across Georgia. DeKalb schools currently impose a higher tax rate than the norm because of an exception created more than 30 years ago.

“That money belongs to the taxpayers,” Taylor said. “We have the highest millage rate in the state with the lowest return.”

Taylor said he will introduce a general bill to re-institute the 20-mill cap statewide. DeKalb County’s current tax rate for schools is 23.73 mills. Atlanta Public Schools also exceeds Taylor’s proposed limit with its 21.64 millage rate.

Taylor's bill could APS $36 million a year in lost revenue.

The impetus behind these measures is the belief more money hasn't led to dramatic improvements in either DeKalb or Atlanta schools.

But where is the evidence giving these systems less money will improve them?

I have to point out the obvious: Both of these urban districts have seen an increase in students in poverty, who cost more to educate because they come to school less prepared and have the least advantages. There is no evidence that less is more when it comes to children from low-income communities.


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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.