Misconceptions in the Financing of Our Schools
Governor Sonny Perdue has called for excellence in education, but the State of Georgia is not doing nearly enough to achieve this goal or even to meet its basic obligations under the Georgia Constitution. Tragically, four out of every ten students in Georgia are not graduating from high school.
The State’s investment in education, which was already inadequate, has been slashed in recent years. Even though some systems suffer more than others, every system is being harmed. The current problems will only get worse, however, unless three entrenched misconceptions are changed.
The first is the common belief that education is a local responsibility, but according to the Georgia Constitution, the “provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.”
Local systems can and should supplement the basic program, but the State is still responsible for providing an adequate education for every child in Georgia. This opportunity is not tied to the resources of a local community or limited by the amount of revenues at the State level.
The “local share” that every system is required to contribute is actually a State tax, since it is used to support the basic program prescribed by the State. No local system “subsidizes” other systems by any more than is the case for any other State tax.
Under the second misconception, additional funding by the State leads to greater control by the State. This is not what our constitution says, since it expressly delegates the “management and control” of our schools to local boards of education.
Local control can be a disaster if school systems are left to do anything they want, but there is a great need for local discretion. Although the State must set and enforce educational goals, the decisions about how to achieve them should be left to the local level. We must unshackle our schools from the top-down restrictions that sap the quality of instruction.
The third misconception is that excellence in education can be achieved in some magical way at very little cost, especially for the children who need extra help. Money isn't everything. It has to be spent wisely, and there is no substitute for dedicated, capable teachers. But adequate funding is a necessary condition for everything else.
Here again, the Georgia Constitution is clear. The State is required to provide an adequate education for all students, but the formula it uses to calculate the cost of an adequate education is at least 20% less than what is required to meet even the minimum standards set by the State.
Some legislators have proposed a State sales tax to replace the property taxes for education, but local systems need the stability of a property tax and a way to meet local needs. There is merit, however, in raising the State sales tax by one cent on the dollar to increase State support for education through the current formula.
Property taxes could then be reduced by the amount local systems have to levy to cover deficits in the funding of the basic program required by the State. Local systems could still decide how much to spend on additional salaries and services.
These misconceptions can be corrected by upholding the Georgia Constitution. This is the decisive action that must be taken to provide an adequate education for all of our children.
Joseph G. Martin, Jr., for the
Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia
December 3, 2004