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Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission is poised to recommend a new school funding formula that threatens to make permanent deep cuts to the existing funding formula and grant programs. The General Assembly must still approve any new formula. But as things stand, most school districts would get less under the proposed formula if it were applied to the current school year than if the Legislature provided the full amount called for in the existing formula. That’s according to preliminary estimates released at the Oct. 28, 2015 meeting of the commission’s funding committee.
The General Assembly appropriated $460 million less for districts this year than the current school funding formula calculated. It also underfunded school transportation grants by $180 million and reduced sparsity grants by $14.5 million. Sparsity grants help districts offset the higher costs of small schools. This is the fourteenth year the legislature imposed cuts to the formula and it’s one reason Georgia now spends far less on each student than most states.
The hardship on school districts worsened in 2012 when the Legislature decided Georgia will no longer cover a portion of health insurance costs for school bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and other essential district staff. Districts now pay the full tab and spend $400 million more annually on health insurance for these employees, local tax dollars that could otherwise be spent in the classroom.
If the new formula was in place this year and fully funded by lawmakers, districts would get $234 million more in state money. That still leaves local school districts a combined $421 million short of what’s called for in today’s formula and grant programs.
Building these cuts into a new funding formula is not smart policy for Georgia’s students. They now compete with students from Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland and other states that make strategic, larger investments in education. These investments are particularly critical for low-income students. Georgia is home to many more of these students than leading states. A better alternative to the proposal on the table can be created with a careful assessment of the cost of educating Georgia’s students to the standards the state has set for them. More is expected of students today than any previous generation.
The funding committee is expected to vote on its recommendations when it meets Nov. 12, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the State Capitol in Room 450. The next meeting of the full commission is Nov. 19, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., in the Sloppy Floyd Building, Suite 824, East Tower. The commission is expected to vote on recommendations from all subcommittees in anticipation of submitting final recommendations to the governor next month.
Read more about the new formula in our report.