The 49-page report offers proposed solutions to several financial issues plaguing state schools by suggesting that Georgia switch to a student-based funding formula rather than the current formula that’s been in place for 27 years.
Readjusting the ’rithmetic
The problem, the report asserts, is the for nearly three decades, K-12 has been funded by using various, intricate and overlapping formulas that make it difficult to identify how the funds are actually used, and if those uses are in students’ best interests. Additionally, current rules enforced by these formulas sometimes limit how money can be spent at both the district and individual school levels.
During the 2010-2011 school year, Georgia spent nearly $17.5 billion on K-12 education, yet the peach state remains near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to national key performance indicators, according to the reformers.
The finance reform report, entitled “Smarter Funding, Better Outcomes,” says currently, Georgia allocates more than 90 percent of state education funding to local school districts through formulas established by the Quality Basic Education Act (QBE). Through the QBE, funding is assigned to one of 19 academic programs.
Students with greater academic needs, such as special education or gifted students, are assigned to smaller class sizes with specific programs, and are therefore allocated more funding.
But the recommendations in the report suggest that Georgia revise QBE so most of the funding is allocated through a student-based formula based on individuals’ needs. Each student would be allocated a base amount with more directed toward students with higher levels of need.
The report recommends that the state foster innovations by lifting many restrictions on funding and expenditures, using new, creative approaches — such as more technology and fewer traditional textbooks — to increase performance. The authors insist that building data and reporting systems that would link funding, expenditures and student outcomes would also benefit the state.
Local officials weigh in
Floyd County Superintendent Jeff McDaniel said he is encouraged that Chamber officials are dedicating time and energy to alleviating school financial issues.
“There is no doubt that the process for funding education is in drastic need of overhaul in Georgia due to changes in how we deliver education, the needs of students and the increasing demands of the business community since the current formula was adopted in 1986,” McDaniel said. “ It is encouraging that our state’s business leaders are dedicating time and resources to bring attention to the need for change.”
Rome City Interim Superintendent Lucian Harris had similar sentiments on the matter.
“I think it’s good that we’ve got folks who are willing to offer recommendations for what we’ll all be doing in education, especially with funding,” Harris said.
Both Harris and Tim Hensley, assistant to McDaniel, said the state has attempted to address updating the funding formula in recent years.
First, Gov. Sonny Perdue ap-pointed a commission during his second term that led to the formation of flexibility options for systems that are part of the Chamber’s recommendations.
Hensley said Floyd County Schools was one of the first systems in the state to implement the Charter System flexibility option, making it an example of how that flexibility might positively impact other school system’s in the state. On a second occasion, he said, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed another commission to study the funding formula.
“The results of that study will be unveiled as we move into this Legislative session and I would anticipate that several initiatives of the Chamber proposal may very well be part of the recommendations of that commission,” Hensley said.
Harris said he favored the current system, however, and that the QBE formula is already largely student-based.
“It sounds good to say the funding is going to the students, but the system of QBE right now already contemplates the needs of students in 19 academic programs,” he said. “So I think that even though it sounds good to say it’s student-based, but I think we’re already doing that.”
He said a group of superintendents, board members and legislators should form a group to hash out ideas for ways to make better use of existing funds.
“If we really want to offer some reforms about the QBE formula, what we ought to do is maybe get some legislators and superintendents, the key players, to sit down and talk about it what we’re receiving right now, what we want to do and how we can tie it all together,” he said.
Harris is concerned that building a database to link funding and expenditures to student performance would cost the state more money than it can afford.
“We don’t have any extra dollars,” he said. “So if we’re not careful, and we try to implement that recommendation, it’s going to cost us more money, money that we don’t have.”
Hensley said the topic overall is likely to take time to figure out, since it’s an incredibly multifaceted issue.
“Georgia is a very diverse state in demographics, socio-economic factors, business and industry strength of communities and education levels,” he said. “The question of how you fairly fund education in Georgia to allow all of our children the opportunity to meet the challenges of the future is extremely complex. It is certain that we will need all of Georgia to come together to determine expectations for our future and how we are going to fund the efforts to reach the goals we envision for our community and our children.”