Public education gets roughly $7 billion, nearly half of the state budget.
The State Education Finance Study Commission meets Sept. 19 to vote on the recommendations and draft its report to the governor and legislature ahead of its month-end deadline. It still has until Dec. 31 to prepare any legislation to implement its proposals, including the repeal of a handful of outdated laws.
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.
Most 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. A 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.
Hill also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is aware that weak tax collections this year has left the state with little opportunity for so-called "new money."
Much of what the commission examined has resulted in no recommendations so far because the members found the issues were so complex, such as funding for special education, how the state can order the closing of failing schools and further simplification of the formula.
"I can see that we're going to have to have, conservatively, four or five (legislative) study committees going forwards on some of this stuff," said Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican who co-chairs the full commission. "This is an ongoing process."