Reworking QBE, Teacher Compensation Weighed by Education Reform Panel

Claire HeadshotThe funding committee of the Education Reform Commission is considering big changes to teacher compensation as it moves rapidly to meet the governor’s August deadline to recommend a new formula to distribute state dollars to public schools. At its late April meeting committee members also considered ways to calculate base funding for each student, which students should receive additional dollars and how to measure student poverty.

The committee is using student-based budgeting as the framework to replace the state’s Quality Basic Education funding formula. In this approach a base amount is allocated to each student in the state with additional money directed to students with greater academic needs. State spending regulations such a minimum class size are removed, and districts can use dollars as they believe best meet students’ need.

Committee members heard a presentation on which components of the current funding model should be included in the per student base amount of the new one. The existing formula distributes money to each district based on the number of their students sorted into categories such as gifted and talented and special education. The formula also provides money for other expenses, including school administration, media centers, staff professional development and nursing. These funds are included in the base amount for the new formula in a proposal reviewed by the committee. A presentation outlining the proposal is available here.

The current formula also distributes state money to each district for teacher compensation based on level of training and years of experience, health care benefits and retirement benefits. In the proposed approach, those funds initially would not be added to the base amount. Funds for teacher compensation would be included after districts design their own teacher salary schedules based on effectiveness, additional duties teachers undertake, the state’s new teacher certification system or other measures linked to teacher effectiveness. Committee members discussed a transition period of two to three years.

Emily Lembeck, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, described that district’s efforts to design and implement a new compensation system. The district is one of several in the state that received grant funds from the federal Race to the Top program to support the development of new teacher compensation models. The rocky implementation of its first compensation model revealed design challenges and spurred significant changes that draw on teacher feedback, she said. The district’s experiences highlight the complexities of developing a compensation system that succeeds in attracting and retaining highly-skilled teachers, supports their professional growth and career goals, and is fiscally sustainable.

Students who could be targeted for additional funding due to greater academic needs include:

  • K-3 students
  • 9-12 students
  • Exceptional students
  • Economically disadvantaged students
  • English Language Learners

A detailed presentation outlining the rationale for providing these students with extra dollars is available here.

Extra funds are allotted for some of these students in the existing formula but not for all of them. Students in the ninth through 12th grades now are included in the base funding amount. Under the proposed formula students in the fourth through eighth grades are allotted the base amount, since their needs are arguably lower.  Currently economically disadvantaged students are not allocated additional money.

Also on the table is a proposal to combine all five current categories of special education students as well as gifted and talented students into a single category called exceptional students. The wide variety of extra supports needed by these different students groups and the associated costs prompted discussion among committee members. In addition committee members considered whether students in Career, Technical and Agricultural Education programs should also receive additional funding given their higher instructional costs.

The committee is also reviewing the criteria used to determine which students qualify as economically disadvantaged. Georgia uses student participation in the federal free and reduced lunch program to gauge student poverty, the standard practice nationally. Students whose family income is no more than 130 percent than the federal poverty line receive free lunch while students whose family income is no more than 185 percent receive reduced cost lunches. (A family of three with income of $26,100 per year is living at 130 percent of the federal poverty level and a family of three and income of $37,200 per year is at 185 percent).

About 1 million, or 62 percent, of Georgia’s K-12 students participate in the lunch program. The federal government recently changed the program’s eligibility rules, which could lead to an exaggerated number of students flagged as economically disadvantaged.

Committee members are considering other ways to identify the economically disadvantaged students selected to benefit from additional dollars under the new funding formula. Possibilities include targeting students who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, are homeless, in foster care or are immigrants. About 35 percent of students would be considered economically disadvantaged using these factors. The presentation on measuring student poverty is available here. A committee member said this more narrow calculation could exclude children in working poor families, who often need more academic help.

The funding committee meets next on May 28 in Room 450 of the State Capitol and the full commission meets next on May 20 in Suite 824 of the Sloppy Floyd Building. The meeting schedule for all subcommittees is available here. Meetings are open to the public. Comments and questions can also be submitted online here.

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