Statement of Principles
What is the purpose of the Consortium?
The Consortium is a coalition of local school systems, which seeks to improve the educational opportunities for all of Georgia’s students.
We cannot allow the continued under-funding of our schools to go unchallenged. Now is the time for the advocates for improved education to insist that the State of Georgia make the needed investment in our schools – for the sake of our children and the future of our state.
The Consortium is strictly non-partisan, and it does not favor any part of our state over another. Its mission is to enhance the educational opportunities for all of Georgia’s students.
What do we believe?
We believe that every child in Georgia deserves an adequate education.
This opportunity is guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution, which declares, “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.” We believe the quality of education in Georgia is crucial to the well-being of every community and the economic prosperity of our state.
We believe the opportunity to gain an adequate education should not depend on where a student happens to live. We realize, however, that some local school systems with greater resources will always be able to offer more to their students than others.
We realize that greater spending on education does not automatically produce higher student achievement. The available funds have to be spent wisely and efficiently, and there is no substitute for dedicated teachers, involved parents, and strong leadership. Nevertheless, adequate funding is necessary for everything else.
We realize that greater attention and resources are needed to provide an adequate education for the children who are economically disadvantaged or have a first language other than English.
We affirm the duty of the State to set goals and standards for education in Georgia and to require accountability in terms of educational results, but we also believe in the value of local discretion in achieving these goals. The Georgia Constitution delegates the “management and control” of our schools to elected boards of education.
We encourage all local boards of education to levy a reasonable property tax for their schools, based on their local needs and economy, and believe that the benchmark for Equalization Grants should be at least as high as the statewide average for property-tax wealth per student.
We believe it is essential for the advocates for improved education to unite in a common cause. All of our children will suffer if anyone tries to take from others or to hold others down. No one can prosper for long unless everyone prospers.
What is the problem?
Georgia’s schools have been chronically under-funded, and the problem is becoming worse.
The under-funding of our schools brings personal harm to many students. In addition, Georgia cannot compete in the world economy or enjoy a high quality of life if four out of every ten students in Georgia are not even graduating from high school.
The formula defined in the Quality Basic Education Act is supposed to represent the cost of providing a basic program for all of Georgia's students, but the total funding generated by this formula is considerably less than what is needed to meet the minimum standards prescribed by the State, which is still not enough to reach the goal of an adequate education for every child.
This problem has been caused by the selective adjustments over time in some components of the formula but not others. As a result, there are substantial gaps between the funding recognized in the formula for various items and the actual cost of these items.
Nearly all of the new funding by the State in the last decade has been used to increase teacher salaries, to respond to increased enrollment, and to cover part of the cost of school construction. Meanwhile, the limits on class size have been tightened, and new requirements have been added.
All local systems are harmed, since they have to use local resources to cover deficits in the funding of the basic program for their students. These shortfalls have forced local systems to reduce their supplemental programs and increase local property taxes. However, the systems without a large tax base do not have the same ability as other systems to pick up the slack in funding the basic program through local taxes.
The required local effort is actually a State tax, since it is the amount each system has to contribute to the basic program as a condition for receiving State funds. No system in Georgia subsidizes other systems by any more than is the case for any other State tax.
The formula was under-funded in FY 2002, but this problem has become even more serious in subsequent years. There has been no adjustment for the impact of inflation, and State funding has been reduced even further through austerity reductions. These cuts of nearly $6,000 per typical classroom have to be absorbed without reducing salaries or increasing class sizes.
In the aggregate, State funding has decreased by more than 4% per student over the last three years, while the amount which a system is supposed to receive (and required to spend) under the already inadequate formula has increased by more than 4% over this period.
The recommended budget for FY 2006 would not restore the loss of funding from previous cuts. The situation would actually become worse because there is no recognition for the continuing impact of inflation. The proposed salary increase would help in recruiting and retaining capable teachers, but local systems would still have to cut programs, defer maintenance, deplete cash reserves, and raise local taxes to make ends meet.
All the while, local schools are experiencing new and more rigorous forms of accountability and have to bear the burden of unprecedented levels of standardized testing and reporting.
What are the consequences?
The under-funding of our schools reduces the quality of the basic educational program, removes the extra support needed by many students, and limits the opportunities for every student to develop his or her own potential.
Because of the way in which salaries are financed, the cuts in State funds have not affected teacher salaries directly, but when local systems have to cover other deficits in the funding formula, they become less able to pay local supplements to their teachers in excess of the State minimum salary schedule. This constraint on teacher salaries depresses the ability of local school systems to attract and retain capable teachers. Teacher turnover increases accordingly.
Every school across Georgia is adversely affected in significant ways.
- Class sizes increase.
- Schools are not cleaned properly. Repairs and maintenance are deferred.
- Textbooks are missing or outdated, and supplies are inadequate.
- Media materials are depleted and out of date.
- Bus routes are longer, and the stops are located farther from school.
- In-service training for teachers is reduced, even when the State is introducing a new curriculum.
- There are fewer specialists for art, music and physical education.
- Music, band, chorus, art, drama, and publications are cut even further.
- The study of foreign languages becomes even less available.
- Pre-kindergarten options are reduced.
The variety of course offerings and the frequency of scheduling are curtailed. Those classes with relatively small enrollments such as Advanced Placement courses, honors classes, and hands-on vocational course are the first to go under budget pressures.
There are not enough counselors for all students. The placement of students with disabilities is delayed. Children who are truant or in trouble do not get the help of a trained social worker. The budget cuts inevitably lead to fewer forms of remedial help, less access to tutoring, and sharp contractions in the intensive intervention that is crucial for many students.
The students who get into trouble and those who simply need a non-traditional approach are kept in regular classrooms or forced out of school. In an effort to economize, schools become even more regimented. Customized offerings to meet specific student needs are abandoned.
The extra boost which is essential to help many students from disadvantaged backgrounds avoid falling behind is removed. The assistance to disabled and handicapped students is cut in both overt and subtle ways. Mainstreaming becomes even more difficult and less frequent.
What can be done?
The State of Georgia must fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education for all of our students.
If the General Assembly does not do what is required by the Georgia Constitution, the courts of our state should be asked to intervene, not by prescribing the specific remedy but by calling on the legislative branch of state government to perform its duty.
That is the purpose of the lawsuit filed by the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia, which is similar to many others across the country. Twenty-three of the last 27 cases based on adequacy have been decided in favor of the party bringing the lawsuit.
Georgia's tax code must be updated to bring the needed revenues in line with the cost of providing essential services. Possible approaches include:
- ending unjustified exemptions,
- broadening the base for the sales tax to reflect the shift from goods to services,
- improving the collection of all legally required taxes,
- updating the gas tax in line with other states,
- setting user fees to cover the cost of the services they are meant to provide, and
- taxing sales over the internet on the same basis as other sales.
Fiscal policy must be comprehensive in the sense that some taxes may have to be increased, while others may be decreased. Similarly, increased revenues at the state level will relieve the pressure for other taxes at the local level.
The solution to this problem may require a combination of factors, including revisions in the tax code as indicated above, increases in some taxes, decreases in other taxes, and changes to allow the most effective use of the available resources. It is also possible that the required local effort for local school systems could be increased.
As one example, the State sales tax could be increased by one cent on the dollar, with most of the proceeds being used to support K-12 education. The additional State funds would enable local systems to add needed services and reduce the portion of their property taxes now being used to cover deficits in the funding of the basic program.
The goal should be to bring all local systems to the same starting point, in which an adequate program is offered to every student in Georgia through State funds and the required local effort by each system.
Once the basic program is fully funded for all students across Georgia, local systems could then decide for themselves how much to spend on higher salaries and additional instruction, according to local needs and desires.
Approved on January 13, 2005, by the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia