Georgia ranks 38th among states for public school spending. Spending per student in Georgia is $1,807 less than the national average, according to new census data. Factor in geographic cost differences and that disparity rises to $2,553. Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission could have outlined a plan to close this gap and boost investment in our students when it developed its recommendations last year, but that didn’t happen. Money matters when it comes to student achievement, especially for low-income students. More than 60 percent of Georgia’s students are low-income, the fifth highest percentage in the nation.
When states invest more in low-income students, they do better in school and in life. A recent study found funding increases for low-income students can
- Increase high school completion rates
- Raise adult earnings
- Raise annual family incomes
- Reduce incidence of poverty
A second new study shows student achievement goes up when states’ investment in students does. These studies confirm earlier research linking greater financial resources with improved student outcomes and refute the oft-repeated refrain, it’s not how much you have, and it’s how you spend it. The way districts spend money matters but they have to have enough to spend in the first place.
The General Assembly can bring the state’s investment in students in line with the rest of the country in the next legislative session. Legislators should develop a plan to increase per-student funding to the national average rather than settle for the level set under the new funding formula proposed by the reform commission, which merely redistributes current funding. Lawmakers laid the groundwork to adequately pay for education with the partial reversal of the deep austerity cuts of recent years. They can properly fund education within the framework designed by the commission. That framework provides district leaders with greater flexibility in how they use state dollars, a valuable lever for reform.
Most of Georgia’s students are from low-income families and contend with the challenges that frequently come with that including lower levels of literacy, less access to high quality after-school and summer programs and increased likelihood of health problems that result in school absences. Meanwhile, the goals the state is setting for them are higher than for any previous generation. Lawmakers must ensure students get the resources needed to reach the higher standards. When the next legislative session convenes in January, they can seize the opportunity to do so.