A fully funded K-12 education formula. Hasty and sweeping tax changes. Georgia’s first foray into need-based financial aid for college students. A harmful anti-immigrant measure left on the cutting room floor.
Georgia lawmakers left those legacies from the just-ended 2018 General Assembly. March entered with a controversial income tax cut and went out with the surprising announcement this week that Georgia will add $167 million to the 2019 budget, now set at $26.2 billion, to fully fund its K-12 education formula for the first time in 16 years.
For years, GBPI sounded the alarm that the state was shortchanging its own funding formula. The cumulative cut since 2003 amounted to $9.2 billion in lost school funding. Schools responded by shortening school calendars, increasing class sizes and cutting art and music programs.
While the 33-year-old funding formula remains the same, fully funding schools for 2019 marks an important step forward in providing students and school districts the resources they need to succeed.
Here’s a recap of other legislative priorities we kept an eye on throughout the 2018 session.
Need-Based Financial Aid for College Students
In Thursday’s waning hours of the 40-day session, lawmakers handed a landmark win to Georgia’s future college students. In House Bill 787, lawmakers authorized a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need. If the governor approves, the Georgia Student Finance Commission will establish a needs-based financial aid program for full-time students in the university system, subject to future appropriations. The commission gets flexibility to determine eligibility criteria and grant amounts. GBPI Policy Analyst Jennifer Lee explained how a need-based aid program would support college enrollment and degree completion.
House Bill 918 is by far Georgia’s most important tax legislation in years. The income tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal on March 2, 2018, reached his desk in a rush, even as a controversy between Delta Air Lines and the NRA briefly sidetracked it. Lawmakers pushed the risky cuts anticipating pressure to eliminate Georgia’s revenue gain expected from the federal tax package passed in December. The U.S. Congress is considering major cuts to Medicaid and food assistance programs, which could shift costs for those services to a state that just hastily gave up revenue.
Georgia lawmakers considered a bill that posed serious risk to the state’s immigrant community and threatened to harm local governments and the state’s economy. Senate Bill 452 would have required communities to work more closely with the federal deportation apparatus, disrupting families and making local taxpayers foot the bill. The bill took on several changes throughout March, but ultimately failed to reach the House floor on Sine Die.
Student Scholarship Organizations
The goal of House Bill 217 is to further subsidize private schools with public dollars, raising the annual limit on tax credits for contributions to student scholarship organizations to $100 million from the current cap of $58 million. The bill approved Thursday calls for a review of Georgia’s decade-old tax credit scholarship program to be completed in 2023. The extra $42 million a year is scheduled to end in 10 years. Georgia’s private school subsidies are overdue for a thorough review of the program.
Lawmakers put $15 million into Georgia’s aging school bus fleet, a welcome investment but far short of what’s needed to ensure safe transit for the state’s schoolchildren. Our Senior Education Policy Analyst Claire Suggs outlined safety concerns in a report last month, documenting a decades-long slide in state funding for student transportation.
Internet Sales Tax
Georgia today doesn’t collect much sales tax revenue from online purchases, due to a long-standing quirk in federal law. House Bill 61 requires online retailers, regardless of their physical location, to collect state sales taxes if they generate more than $250,000 in revenue or make at least 200 sales to Georgians in a calendar year. If Gov. Deal approves, it could mean more than $500 million a year in state and local revenue, pending the outcome of a Supreme Court decision later this year.