Every day across Georgia school buses carry students safely to and from school. This is an essential service, which the state requires school districts to provide. Transporting students also comes with a hefty price tag yet the state contributes little to its cost. The General Assembly has cut school transportation funding for more than a decade, leaving districts to fill in the gap. Districts spent nearly $750 million busing students in the 2013-2014 school year. The state chipped in less than 20 percent of that.
A new GBPI report today shows state funding is so low, in part, because the General Assembly does not provide the full amount called for in the state’s own school transportation funding formula. The state should send $306 million to districts in this school year to help cover the cost of busing students, instead of the $126 million it actually will. Districts are left to fill the resulting $180 million gap with local tax dollars that could otherwise expand classroom resources.
This adds to the financial pain of a $466 million cut to the state’s primary funding formula for K-12 schools this school year. Together these cuts leave Georgia’s 180 districts short $646 million. And they come at a time when the state’s expectations of students are higher than ever. Students today must know and do more than any previous generation but the state is not living up to its end of the bargain.
What’s worse, these cuts may not be temporary. Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission is considering a new funding formula that locks them in. The current funding formula is three decades old and needs revision. However, a new formula should be based on an examination of the cost to educate Georgia students. It should provide resources necessary for students to reach goals the state set for them. It should also be aligned with practices that support fiscal efficiency. This more rational approach would help ensure Georgia develops the skilled workforce it needs to lay the groundwork for a strong economic future. A new formula that continues to shortchange Georgia’s students will not.