Policies to Improve Education in Georgia
PROPOSED PARTNERSHIP IN THE FINANCING OF GEORGIA’S SCHOOLS
1. To ensure a basic opportunity for every student in Georgia, the State of Georgia would support a Foundation Program for all students in each system, with the cost of the Foundation Program being estimated in a comprehensive and realistic way.
The funding for the Foundation Program would cover the general costs per student in four groupings of grade levels (kindergarten, 1-5, 6-8, and 9-12) for the entire school day as well as the additional costs for the part of the school day which each student spends in programs that are equivalent to Special Education, English to Speakers of Other Languages, Alternative Education (in grades 6-12), Remedial Education (in grades 6-12), Gifted Education, and the Early Intervention Program (in grades K-5).
The funding of the Foundation Program would be enough to support the following components:
- A classroom teacher, based on the current ratios for class size,
- Paraprofessionals, counselors, subject specialists, technology specialists, media center personnel, psychologists, and school social workers, based on the current staffing ratios,
- Textbooks, library books and media, supplies, equipment, travel, and instructional technology, based on a reasonable amount per student at each organizational level. (As a reality check, the total amount should not be less than 70% of the actual expenditures in the most recent year for which data is available),
- Staff development, based on the demonstrated need for updating the skills of all teachers but not less than 1.5% of the State’s salary schedule for the covered positions,
- Facility maintenance and operation, based on the cost per student of maintaining a typical school building at each organizational level, (As a reality check, the total amount should not be less than 70% of the actual expenditures in the most recent year for which data is available),
- Reasonable estimates of the cost for the required supervision of a typical school and school system, but not less than 10% of the salaries of the instructional staff at each school for school administration and 3% of the certificated salaries at the school level for central administration.
The cost of the additional programs would be calculated in a similar manner, using the current staffing ratio for each program, but would not include allocations for facility maintenance and operation, school administration, and central administration beyond those already included in the general costs.
Until a new compensation plan is adopted, the salaries for all certificated positions would be determined in accordance with the State’s minimum salary schedule then in effect. The adjustment in salary for training and experience would be simplified by using an overall adjustment for each system instead of a separate adjustment for every program and type of position.
Student transportation would be a system grant based on the specific needs in each system, but as a reality check, the total state allocation should not be less than 70% of the actual statewide expenditures in the most recent year for which data is available. There would also be a system grant to cover the extra costs caused by extreme sparsely and isolation.
2. To close the achievement gap among various groups and increase the overall graduation rate, the Foundation Program would include targeted instructional services for all eligible students in grades K-5 and non-traditional programs for all eligible students in grades 6-12.
The current Early Intervention Program would be expanded to provide the assistance needed by all eligible students in grades K-5 to perform at grade level on a sustained basis. The funding for this initiative would be based on the number of economically disadvantaged students who are not meeting grade level expectations, but the related services would be available to all eligible students at each school. The classes in which these students are taught would be reduced in size on a blended basis at a ratio of 1 teacher for every 11eligible students.
The current Remedial Education Program would be modified as necessary and expanded to provide the assistance needed by all students in grades 6-12 who are not making satisfactory progress toward graduation from high school.
Similarly, the current Alternative Education Program would be expanded to serve all of the students who need a non-traditional setting to graduate from high school as well as the students who have been identified as being disruptive. This funding would recognize the necessary start-up costs.
3. The State would pay 80% of the total cost of the Foundation Program for the state as a whole, and the remaining 20% of the total cost would be apportioned among all local school systems in relation to the taxable wealth of each system.
The concept of an 80%-20% split is already embodied in State law, but the specific percentages are less important than the goal of creating a true partnership, in which the dollar amount of the state and local shares change together. Under the current approach, the required local effort is equal to the revenues generated by 5 mills of property taxes, regardless of the cost of the Foundation Program.
The total local share would be divided among all local school systems according to the percentage of the total equalized property-tax digest for the entire state that is represented by each system. However, since the ability to pay property taxes also depends on the taxpayer’s income, the local share for each system would be further adjusted in accordance with an index that compares the median household income in each system with the median household income for the entire state.
4. Because of the importance of local discretion, local systems would be able to spend the funds for the Foundation Program in the way they believe is the most beneficial to their students, but would be subject to accountability for results, overall standards, a State minimum salary schedule, and general expenditure controls.
Although the stated cost of the Foundation Program would be based on a certain organizational structure and staffing pattern, each school should have the latitude to adopt other organizational forms and instructional approaches, so long as the local system accepted the responsibility for any incremental cost and was able to demonstrate improved student achievement.
5. To meet local needs and desires beyond the Foundation Program, local systems would also have the ability to levy mills in excess of the required local share to increase salaries above the State minimum salary schedule and to enrich or expand the services to their students.
The intent of the Foundation Program is to provide an adequate education for every student, including the children who have disabilities, do not speak English as their first language, or need extra help, but local systems should have the right to expand or enrich the Foundation Program through local funds.
6. The State would provide supplemental grants to enable all systems to increase salaries and expand services on the same basis as the system at a defined level of taxable wealth.
Like the current Equalization Grants, these grants would be based on the taxable wealth of the system at the 75th percentile in terms of each system’s equalized property-tax digest per weighted student, but the benchmark for taxable wealth would not be less than statewide average.
7. To fulfill the State’s responsibility in supporting the Foundation Program and to reduce local property taxes, the State would increase its statewide sales tax by one cent. Local boards of education would have to hold public hearings if they did not reduce their property taxes at least half of the increase in State funds.
This change in the mix of state and local taxes would enable the State to increase its funding of the Foundation Program and permit local school systems to reduce their property taxes to the extent they have been using local funds to cover deficits in state funding. Although local school boards would be required to hold public hearings if they did not reduce their property taxes by at least half of the new funds from the State, they would retain the final authority to set their own millage rates.
If the increase in required local effort for any system was greater than the indicated reduction in its property taxes, there would be an additional State grant to that system to cover the difference. Any such system could still use the general increase in State funding to reduce its property taxes.
The reduction in property taxes could be targeted to homeowners by increasing the statewide homestead exemption or making direct refunds through a plan like the one in New York State.
Revised May 5, 2006
Note: This plan would improve the financing of Georgia's schools, but does not represent the level of funding that would be needed to fulfill the State's constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education for every student.