Georgia is underfunding its K-12 programs to the tune of about $660 million this school year, according to the state’s own formula. Plans emerging from the governor’s Education Reform Commission threaten to lock in most of the cuts for the long term.
Ongoing state funding shortfalls flagged by GBPI’s education expert Claire Suggs are among the key takeaways from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute’s education forum, held Tuesday at the headquarters of the co-host, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Please visit our events page to see photos and a sampling of presentations from the forum.
Local districts will still get stuck with a shortfall of about $425 million less than called for in state formulas, even assuming approval of the commission’s recommendation Wednesday that lawmakers add $235 million to the education budget to help offset recession-era austerity cuts.
That’s because the new money still leaves a $232 million education formula shortfall, another $180 million short for the state’s share of district transportation costs and $14.5 million in sparsity grants, designed to help school systems manage the high costs of very small schools.
“These are all costs, of course, that the school districts will have to absorb,” Suggs told an audience of nearly 100 people who braved rainy weather to hear speakers and panelists assess the current state of education in Georgia. “They will have to fill in as best they can with local dollars, or cut services.”
Called “Improving Student Achievement: The Education Reform Commission and Beyond,” the half-day forum drew an engaged group of educators, lawmakers and policy experts eager to catch up with the latest developments in Georgia’s ongoing efforts to remake its 30-year-old education funding formula. A new GBPI report, “School Districts Get Growing Tab for Transportation” was released during the forum.
In addition to Suggs, the K-12 education panel also featured Mike Griffith, senior school finance analyst of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chair of the Senate’s Education and Youth Committee and J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools. A subsequent panel focused on pre-Kindergarten and early childhood education issues and featured Montreal Bell, coordinator of Pre-K programs for Fulton County Schools, Mindy Binderman, executive director of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students and Wande Meadows, a director with Forest Park’s Little Ones Learning Center.
Georgia’s new education funding formula should align with its expectations of students and teachers, said Griffith of the Denver group focused on state-level school finances. School spending plans should also focus on equitable offerings for all students, transparency and predictability, he said.
Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education led off the lineup of forum speakers with an overview of the work to date of Georgia’s reform commission and provided a broad context for reasons the quality of public education deserves so much attention.
“What are we are doing to our children and what we are doing for our children to put them on a better path?” he asked.
Gov. Nathan Deal convened the Education Reform Commission early this year to examine the way Georgia distributes state money to its 180 school districts and charged its members with creating a new and improved method.
The funding committee next meets Nov. 12, 2015 at the Capitol and the full commission next meets Nov. 19, 2015 at the state’s Sloppy Floyd building. The commission’s full set of recommendations is due to the governor before the end of the year.