Public schools make up the biggest portion of Georgia’s state budget, so when lawmakers head to Atlanta each January to fund the government and pass new laws, education always has a prominent role.
This January could see delivery on efforts to make students living in poverty a priority in the state’s funding formula, new pay raises and literacy training for teachers, the state taking over some of the ballooning costs of transporting students and more slots in the state’s Pre-K program, according to a list of Georgia Department of Education priorities for the coming regular session.
Changes to QBE
Since 1985, Georgia has been funding public schools using a formula called Quality Basic Education, or QBE, which determines how much of the state budget should go to each student depending on factors like what grade he or she is in and whether he or she receives special education.
Lawmakers have been working to update the formula in recent years, and modernizing the way the state pays to get kids to and from classes could be a big opportunity, said Stephen Owens, education director for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
In the 1990s, the state covered more than half of all the transportation costs for districts, Owens said, but today, it’s closer to 20% or below.
“The dollar amount has stayed the same since about fiscal year 2000, while we’ve gained hundreds of thousands of students, while the price of diesel, buses, labor have all gone up,” he said. “And the end result is hundreds of millions of dollars to push down the individual districts to cover the cost of something that’s required by state law, that you have to provide for your traditional school district, you have to provide transportation.”