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Ed Reform Commission's Challenge: Fairer funding. Did it succeed?

The Governor’s Education Reform Commission has finished the monumental task of considering how to improve almost every aspect of K-12 education in Georgia and produced a set of recommendations for Nathan Deal to consider.

Deal does not have to embrace all the recommendations; he can pick and choose from among the reports on each specific review area, school funding, teacher pay, early childhood learning, parental choice and school flexibility.

But funding is the most critical question, as the AJC's Ty Tagami reported Saturday:

The proposed funding formula would replace a 1985 law that distributes money to schools based on a calculation of the cost of educating each child. The proposed formula, by contrast, isn't based on a cost calculation, and some observers say that's a problem.

"What they've done is taken what the current level of funding is and said, 'That's the cost of an education, ' " said Joseph G. Martin Jr., a former Atlanta school board member who helped write the 1985 funding formula and served on several subsequent committees that tried to amend it. He said it's important to know costs so smart decisions can be made when circumstances necessitate change. "If you're going to have a formula for spending $8.5 billion, there ought to be some logic to how that formula is constructed and the logic should be a lot more than 'this is what we spent last year.' "

The debate is beginning over whether the commission met the challenge of school funding or stepped around it.

As Tagami reported earlier:

The most far-reaching proposal would alter the way more than a third of the state’s revenue is distributed to schools. It adds a quarter-billion dollars in funding and favors a hands-off approach that frees educators to spend money as they choose while eliminating rules on classroom size, contact time with teachers or teacher pay.

This group made it further than predecessors who tried, and failed, to overhaul the 1985 Quality Basic Education Act, a school funding law praised for its thoroughness but criticized as outdated and inflexible. They avoided an obstacle that bogged down previous groups by not asking a difficult question: How much should it cost to educate each child? Instead, this commission arrived at numbers dictated by what the state has been spending in recent years, an amount that has been lower than it was meant to be.

Here is the response to the proposed reforms from the Georgia Association of Educators:

From GAE:

“We continue to have strong concerns about actual practicing teachers not being at the ERC table to provide frontline input into these public education reforms that will reverberate for many generations of Georgia’s students to come,” said Dr. Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educator. “The entire process has led to increased low morale among teachers and many are voicing to me that they want to retire as soon possible or leave the profession altogether.  Proposed changes such as those on teacher compensation and eliminating the state salary schedule will make the morale even worse.”

Recommendations Chapman has concerns over are:

The new funding formula is a back-pack funding model that will be based on students and their characteristics (e.g., gifted, low income, special needs, etc.) along with other criteria.  Based on our research, no other state has tried this approach to date.  It is yet another unproven experiment on our students.

Eliminating the state salary schedule and replacing it with local school district compensation models.  GAE has major concerns with this recommendation.  Go here to see in-depth GAE review.

However, Chapman says there were some recommendations made that GAE supports including:

Adding an additional $209 million to their recommended funding formula if funds are available.  This new recommendation would be added to the $258 million already proposed resulting in a potential total of $467 million over today’s funding.  Keep in mind, while these new funds would be helpful, the school systems would still be underfunded using the current QBE formula;

Increasing funding for Pre-K by $50 million using lottery funds.  Proposals also include increasing pay and methods to increase the quality of Pre-K programs;

Working to align teachers’ salaries to meet or exceed the national average for teacher pay;

Providing state level funding program to compensate teachers who supervise  teacher interns;

Modifying the implementation of Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES) to allow fewer required classroom observations for effective teachers after a baseline of effectiveness has been established;

Providing grants to support districts in developing strong teacher induction programs;

Keeping as a top priority the preservation of teacher planning time. To monitor implementation, the climate survey for LKES should be amended to include a question related to how well principals protect teacher planning time;

Returning to a “normal” curricular adoption cycle, and maintaining a high bar before implementing major changes outside a 6 year cycle;

Encouraging regional and state-wide collaboration to make SLO assessments more consistent within the state;

Supporting full implementation of the teacher career ladder and participation in the top levels of the Tiered Certification model;

Investigating the benefit of re-instituting the service cancellable loan programs for students graduating from a University System of Georgia (USG) teacher education program; and

Reimbursing the costs of the required GACE exams and edTPA which pre-service teachers incur while enrolled in a teacher preparation program of the University System of Georgia.

“While there was unanimous consent from ERC members on most of the recommendations, there were a number of commission members that dissented and voted against a number of recommendations to offer more financial and other support to charter schools,” said Chapman.  “Two of the proposals for tax credits for private schools and voucher-like saving accounts for parents were voted down by the commission which was a great victory for public education.  We would like to thank the bipartisan legislators and other commission members that stood together to vote these proposals down.  However, GAE has major concerns about most of the charter school recommendations that did pass."


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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.