Georgia’s public schools are funded through a law passed in 1985 called the Quality Basic Education Act, or QBE. This report offers an assessment of the state of education funding in Georgia by analyzing how it compares to prior years and other states and exploring what areas are due for review or revision.
- 1,769,621 – Total enrollment in Georgia public schools in October 2019
- $5,427 – Amount allocated in the QBE formula per student in FY 2020
- $522,122,265 – Amount allocated to supply Georgia’s teachers and certified employees with a $3,000 pay raise that began July 1, 2019
- 34th – Georgia’s national rank in per student funding (36th when cost-adjusted)
- $1,996 – The gap between the amount of funding per student in Georgia and the national average
- 15th – Georgia’s rank of the funding difference for high-poverty districts relative to low-poverty
- 41 percent – Portion of Georgia’s state budget allocated to K-12 public education in FY 2020
- $0 – Amount of additional funding Georgia provides for schools specifically to serve students living in poverty, making Georgia one of only eight states that fails to do so
Georgia schools operated under strict budget cuts, or austerity, for 16 years. Austerity ended in fiscal year 2018. The following graph shows the true amount state lawmakers allotted for K-12 education, with the missed dollars from the cuts added to display what fully funding QBE would have looked like.
If QBE had been fully funded, the total growth in state funding from FY 2012 to FY 2020 would be $1,027.44 in nominal dollars per student. Many factors attributed to the growth in state funding. Most prominently, recent pay raises to teachers (2 percent in FY 2018, $3,000 in FY 2020) have driven costs. Gov. Deal signed a 2 percent raise that added $91.69 per student while Gov. Kemp’s $3,000 raise added an additional $298.20 per student. Together these salary increases amount to more than 38 percent of all QBE growth since 2012.
Second, student enrollment in certain education programs has changed notably in the last decade. School districts are paid differing amounts depending on the courses that each student participates in. Gifted, Vocational and Early Intervention (for students behind grade level) programs each are allotted higher dollar amounts than general education classes. For example, from FY 2012 to FY 2018 student enrollment in Georgia increased 5.7 percent. Over this same time, participation in the elementary school Early Intervention Program (EIP) increased by 39.7 percent (56,723 additional students), growing 6.8 times faster than student enrollment overall. EIP, by relying on smaller class sizes to support students that are academically behind their peers, is allotted an average of $1,490 more per student than the general K-5 program. The 56,700 additional students in EIP from 2012 to 2018 explains $84.5 million of the cost growth that QBE has experienced above traditional student enrollment growth. The chart below shows the growth of select education programs that command additional state dollars.
Finally, the employer contribution rate to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) has nearly doubled in the last decade, from 10.28 percent in FY 2012 to 21.14 percent in FY 2020. As teachers are state employees, Georgia is responsible for this amount for all educators paid for with state funds. Due to the combined effects of recent teacher pay raises, increased participation in higher-funded education programs and additional contributions to TRS, Georgia’s state and local school funding is now in line with the funding amount pre-austerity cuts, once adjusted for inflation.
The state provides money for formula-driven categorical grants on top of the traditional QBE financing to schools or systems in order to fulfill the constitutional requirement to provide an adequate public education for all children. In the last decade, state lawmakers have underfunded these grants by more than $900 million. These cuts sit on top of the state’s austerity cuts from FY 2003 to FY 2018. The equalization grant provides funds for districts that have lower-than-average property wealth, and the state offers sparsity grants to schools that cannot provide adequate education programs due to smaller enrollments.
Georgia’s General Assembly froze the amount provided to equalization grants in FY 2010 at $436 million. Earnings in the formula exceeded $830 million in FY 2013, leaving a difference of $396 million unfunded in that year alone. In 2012 lawmakers passed a change to the formula that significantly lowered the overall amount given to low-wealth districts, but also sent additional dollars to the districts with the lowest overall property-tax wealth in the state. Since FY 2014 equalization has been allotted the amount required in the new formula. Sparsity grants have been funded at 27 percent of the amount that the formula dictates, resulting in $18 million less funding going to sparse, rural districts in FY 2020 alone.
Student transportation across the state has experienced similar enduring underfunding. Costs to bus students to and from the schoolhouse are projected to eclipse $1 billion in FY 2020 due in large part to the state’s public school enrollment growth of more than 29 percent since FY 2000, while the state’s funding has remained practically unchanged over that time.
The state’s public schools have returned to a necessary baseline for funding due to Georgia lawmakers’ investments in teacher pay and public pensions as well as the end of harmful austerity cuts. But fully funding one portion of the Quality Basic Education Act is not the same as providing an adequate education for all students. Georgia continues to lag compared to other states in total funding per student, and the glaring needs of underfunded programs like sparsity and student transportation keep the state from realizing the full potential of public education. A GBPI survey taken in the summer of 2019 showed that school district leaders continue to operate with inadequate funds due to the lingering effects of underfunding. The absence of additional money meant specifically to help educate students living in poverty underscores that Georgia can do more to meet the challenge at hand. In order to chart a way forward, lawmakers must prepare for a more inclusive economy that raises the funds needed to serve the people of Georgia.
 U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Annual survey of school system finances. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html; Farrie, D., Kim, R. & Sciarra, D.G. (2019). Making the grade 2019: How fair is school funding in your state? Education Law Center. Retrieved from https://edlawcenter.org/assets/Making-the-Grade/Making%20the%20Grade%202019.pdf
 U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Annual survey of school system finances. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances.html
 Farrie, D., Kim, R. & Sciarra, D.G. (2019). Making the grade 2019: How fair is school funding in your state? Education Law Center. Retrieved from https://edlawcenter.org/assets/Making-the-Grade/Making%20the%20Grade%202019.pdf
 Kanso, D. (2019). Georgia revenue primer for state fiscal year 2020. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://gbpi.org/2019/georgia-revenue-primer-for-state-fiscal-year-2020/
 Based on a GBPI analysis of FTE Enrollment by Subgroup Programs, FY2012 – FY2018.
 Based on a GBPI analysis of FTE Enrollment by Subgroup Programs, QBE Allotment Sheets, FY2012 – FY2018.
 Based on a GBPI analysis of Appropriations bills, FY2011 – FY2020.
 Johnson, C.D. (2012). Bill Analysis: House Bill 824: House Bill 824 Makes Changes to Georgia’s K-12 Education Equalization Program. Retrieved from https://cdn.gbpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Bill-Analysis-HB-824.pdf
 Sparsity formula provided by Georgia Department of Education.
 Aisami, L. (2019). Fairer funding, fairer schools. Retrieved from https://gbpi.org/2019/fairer-funding-fairer-schools/