Johnson is one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s appointees to the State Education Finance Study Commission, which is trying to update a spending formula essentially unchanged for 27 years.
“When you look back to the number of times groups have been brought together to do this, there’s not much result,” Johnson said Wednesday. “This time, we do have a result. … We’re finally doing something.”
State funding for central-office staff, classroom computers, buses, nurses and librarians would all change under recommendations heard Wednesday by the full commission.
Public education gets roughly $7 billion, nearly half of the state budget.
Johnson said the session was a chance for each subcommittee to present its recommendations, in advance of a Sept. 19 vote on the final report to the governor and state lawmakers. The commission has until Dec. 31 to prepare any legislation to implement its proposals.
“We know next year’s going to be tough, so some of these things may not kick in until the following fiscal year,” Johnson said. “But we listened to the people in the field, we reviewed national data and we tried to make a decision on the adequate funding level to provide these services in Georgia.”
A few suggestions would cut what state taxpayers spend in specific categories — like ending funding for central-office staff to save approximately $20 million and trimming librarian funding by $8.6 million.
“Not all recommendations can have a plus sign,” said commission subcommittee chairman Kelly Henson, who is also executive secretary of the Professional Standards Commission that oversees teacher certifications and a former Floyd County schools superintendent.
Most items do have plus signs when they’re fully phased in over three years:
- $52 million for classroom computers and electronic blackboards
- $11 million for teacher training
- $22 million for buses and cameras to catch motorists who run bus stop signs
- $30 million for school counselors
- $2.3 million for more psychologists
The commission’s assignment was to revise the per-student formula, which didn’t include school nurses, computers and elementary counselors when the General Assembly enacted it in 1985. Another commission spent two years making a similar study but issued no formal recommendations when it disbanded in 2006.
The current panel has been working for nearly two years, and it has decided not to make wholesale changes in the formula. Instead, it will merge the 19 funding categories into 11 that school districts have to apply for — but that change will be gradual and won’t affect the total of what the state spends on education.
“Lacking new money or the sky parting as far as new ideas, for us, at least, simplification was the one area, where we were working, that we could do,” said Sen. Jack Hill, a Reidsville Republican who chairs one of the commission subcommittees and the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Much of what the commission examined has resulted in no recommendations so far because the members found the issues were so complex. Johnson said the law requiring each system to spend 65 percent of its budget in the classrooms is one of the areas recommended for continued study.
“It really needs to be redefined. … No school systems are exactly alike, and we want to give them more flexibility as long as they’re meeting accountability standards,” he said.
Staff writer Diane Wagner contributed to this report.