Lawmakers are racing to pass a risky tax package that drains $1.4 billion a year from the state treasury once fully implemented. A better choice is to hit the pause button and send school districts the full amount of money the state’s own K-12 funding formula calculates they should get. The General Assembly is underfunding public schools by $167 million in the current school year and plans to cut schools’ budget by the same amount in the 2018-2019 school year. The cut makes it much harder for school districts to make strategic Investments in instruction and other things that help students learn.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute surveyed district leaders in 2017 about ways to use $167 million if the Legislature invested it in public schools. The responses spotlight the critical gaps created by the ongoing cuts.
- “Wayne County would be able to add back art, music and technology teachers at the elementary level. These teachers were cut when austerity was implemented. We would also be able to hire more teachers to help reduce class size.” Wayne County Schools
- “We have no instructional coaches. We have only one curriculum person in grades K-12. We would use these additional funds to provide instructional support and assistance with Response to Intervention.” Dodge County Schools
- “[Provide] greater support to struggling schools through Fulton’s Strategic School Support Model to include “turnaround coaching” for school leaders, adaptive reading software for Grades 9-12, social and emotional learning supports. Return to state max class size for Early Intervention Program and Remedial classes.” Fulton County Schools
School district leaders across Georgia report similar needs in their own communities, which likely will go unmet if the General Assembly approves the tax cuts proposed in HB 918. The state’s proposed 2019 budget is set to mark the seventeenth consecutive year lawmakers provided less than the full amount of funding to school districts. All told, lawmakers cut more than $9 billion from public schools based on Georgia’s funding formula since 2003.
If lawmakers hit the brakes on the tax package, they can accomplish some big things to support Georgia’s students in addition to budgeting for public schools at the required level. They can also make up the $177 million shortfall in state student transportation funding, allowing school districts to shift the local funds they must now spend on busing students to teaching them. Legislators can also get old school buses that do not meet today’s safety standards off the road. There are nearly 3,700 school buses 15 years or older and they carry Georgia’s students every day. Districts can replace only a small number each year because legislators cut funding for bus replacement and are not planning to add more money for new buses in the 2019 budget. An investment of $248 million over four years is enough to replace out-of-date buses according to the Georgia Department of Education.
Lawmakers like to say Georgia needs to build an educated workforce to foster strong economic growth for the state. If legislators pass the tax cuts proposed in HB 918, they risk pushing the state away from that goal. Students’ hopes for success in school and the workforce are also diminished by another year of underfunding public education. Legislators can do better by Georgia’s students if they choose them over tax cuts this year.