AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Ex-Senate budget director: will take a generation to recover from school spending cuts

The same day last week that an influential state committee proposed a $258 million hike in school funding, Georgia State University's Carolyn Bourdeaux was making it clear that the proposed increase doesn't come remotely close to what schools have lost since the start of  the Great Recession.

Bourdeaux, director of the Center for State and Local Finance at GSU, said during a briefing on the state  budget that on a per capita basis, adjusted for inflation, state spending on K-12 schools is about what it was in 1998, the year Roy Barnes was elected governor promising big changes for public education.

Whereas the state ranked 1st in school spending per student in the South in 2002 - the year Barnes was defeated for re-election - Georgia ranked 8th in in 2012, after two recessions led to a series of spending cuts.

Two years later, to match per student spending levels, she said, districts would need an extra $2.4 billion a year. That means the state would have had to kick in an extra $1.36 billion a year, and local school districts would have needed to raise another $1 billion from taxpayers.

Big numbers. Much bigger than the $400 million in austerity cuts pro-teacher and public education groups have complained would be permanently buried into the funding formula if Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers accept the committee's funding recommendations during the 2016 General Assembly.

Bourdeaux isn't the ivory-tower liberal egghead some Republicans like to complain about at public universities. She served as budget director for the Georgia Senate under Republican leaders at both the height of state school spending and when lawmakers started slashing during the Great Recession. She knows neither state leaders nor local school boards are going to be able to quickly make up what public education lost.

"We really are never going to get back to where we were," she said. "It's time to sort of start thinking about where we are going to put our money going forward. That's something that will take a generation to really recover from."

While K12 funding in Georgia went from 1st in the South to 8th, the ranking for public college funding has remained relatively constant. Georgia ranked 8th in 2004, and 8th in 2014.

The difference, as budget geeks, college students and their parents know, is that the Board of Regents can raise tuition to make up for state funding cuts. K12 school districts have to raise more from property taxes to make up the difference. While state funding for colleges has lagged, the  increase in Georgia college tuition during that period was more than twice that of any other Southern state, according to Bourdeaux's data.









Reader Comments ...

About the Author

James Salzer has covered state government and politics in Georgia since 1990.