Georgia School Funding Association

REPORTS

Comprehensive Proposal to the Education Task Force

May 8, 2006

TO: Governorís Education Finance Task Force
FROM: Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia
RE: Education in Georgia

The Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia has provided input to the Education Finance Task Force previously, but as you begin the last six months of your work, we want to submit additional information and a specific recommendation for your consideration.

We agree with many of the principles which have been articulated in your meetings and endorse the concept of education as an investment from which returns should be expected in terms of student achievement. We are disappointed, however, that you have not conducted an outside, independent study to estimate the cost of providing an adequate education for all of Georgiaís students. An analysis of the current outcomes, especially in terms of the students who meet the requirements for graduation, would have been an important part of this assessment.

Nevertheless, we believe it is possible to make rough estimates of these factors based on the elements of the instructional program currently defined in Georgia law and the student data published by the Georgia Department of Education on its Web site. A summary of our research on these subjects is found in the first two enclosures.

In simple terms, we believe the State is under-funding its own definition of the cost of a basic education by at least $1.1 billion in FY 07 and that only about 53% of our students are actually graduating from high school with a regular diploma. Neither of these measures reflects the investment our State ought to be making in education or the kind of results we want for our students. They certainly do not meet the constitutional standard for an adequate education.

We should stress that the shortfall in State funding is based on the current instructional program, which would not be enough to meet the needs of many of our students even if it was fully funded. The services to meet extra needs usually require additional funding. This cost estimate is also based on the existing State salary schedule.

However, we should also note that an increase in State support could in some instances enable local systems to reduce their local property taxes to the extent that they have been forced to use local funds to cover deficits in the State share of the total cost of the program prescribed by the State. This problem has been aggravated by the steady shift in the funding of K-12 education in Georgia from the state to the local level in recent years.

As you have stressed in your meetings, the method of funding our schools should be set in the context of our educational goals. We applaud the Governorís desire to seek excellence, but we first want to ensure that there is an adequate instructional program for every child in Georgia.

The specific aspects of this instructional program can and should vary from school to school and even from class to class, but we do believe it is essential for the State to provide a foundation of financial support so that every school system can provide an adequate instructional program. Although the funding formula should not dictate the instructional program, it should provide enough funds to support the basic components in each school and each class.

The funding formula should reflect a partnership between the State and local systems, although the State should assume the primary responsibility. Moreover, the share provided by each local system should be based on the taxable wealth in that community in relation to the state as a whole. From that point on, local systems should be able to exceed the foundation program by as much as they are willing and able to do.

As a basic premise, the funding formula, whatever it might be, should provide enough resources to support an adequate instructional program in every school throughout Georgia. Money isnít everything, but there must be enough to pay reasonable salaries, provide decent facilities, transport students to school, assist students with disabilities, and offer a sound curriculum.

An adequate education includes more than the basics. Every student should have the opportunity to grow intellectually, develop his or her talents, and obtain the preparation needed for higher education or an entry-level job. Effective interventions are necessary to close the achievement gap for disadvantaged students and rescue the large number of students who are not even graduating from high school with a regular diploma.

At the same time, the State should insist on accountability for educational results, based on improvement over time, with both penalties and rewards, but not undermine the ability of educators to make wise decisions in the best interest of their students. Arbitrary, rigid rules sap local initiative and inevitably lead to regimentation. True educational reform can be achieved only by energizing teachers and empowering school leaders.

It is also vital to enhance the teaching profession by establishing professional standards and treating teachers accordingly. Teachers should be expected to demonstrate their competence with increasing responsibilities and compensation at each stage in their career. The financing formula is not the means to achieve this important goal, but it should not be a barrier or even a hindrance in implementing a career ladder, providing mentoring and other support for beginning teachers, and compensating teachers on the basis of proven performance and educational needs.

In addition to these objectives, we have tried to incorporate the other principles you have discussed in your meetings in terms of a partnership between the State and local systems and include the flexibility needed to accommodate the best and leading practices you have identified.

With this foundation, we have prepared a comprehensive proposal for your consideration, as described in the third enclosure. We believe this plan would simplify the funding formula, strengthen the partnership, reduce local property taxes, and ensure the availability of a basic instructional program for every child in Georgia.

Many of the specific numbers in this proposal are arbitrary and are included solely for the purpose of illustration, but we thought the plan should have enough specificity so that it could be measured. Nevertheless, we are more interested in describing concepts than in the details.

We also thought this proposal should be comprehensive in nature, since the key to an effective strategy is whether the pieces fit together in a coherent whole. Likewise, there has to be a revenue structure to support the plan. Otherwise, whatever plan is recommended cannot not be implemented.

We urge you to consider this proposal as a framework for improving the financing of education in Georgia and to adopt as much of it as you find useful. We would appreciate the opportunity to present this proposal to the appropriate committees of your task force, explain the ideas more fully, and make whatever adjustments you would suggest.

Additional items of information are also enclosed for further background in the hope that they will shed some light on the current situation. These items are listed below.

  1. A table to show the changes in State funding to Georgiaís schools over the last five years. Although the level of State funds was not adequate in FY 02, the problem has become worse since then. The total amount has decreased from FY 02 to FY 07 by more than 6% on a per-student, inflation-adjusted basis.
  2. An op-ed article to clarify the budget for education in FY 07. It is inconsistent, for example, to tighten the limits on class sizes while over half of the austerity cuts remain in place. To be cost-effective in terms of student achievement, the reductions in class size should be targeted, and there should be enough flexibility to avoid splitting classes during a school year.
  3. An op-ed article about the constitutional issues facing Georgia in education.
  4. Summary of other policies to raise student achievement. There is a pressing need for greater financial support from the State, but more money by itself is not enough. It has to be spent wisely and effectively, with an emphasis on higher expectations for students and staff, local discretion, accountability for results, and freedom from regimentation.
  5. A simple brochure on the untold story about education in Georgia.

Please let us know if you have any questions. We appreciate the substantial effort you have devoted to this significant task and want to assist you in reaching the goal of excellence in education for all of our students.

Enclosures