In a newly published report on the state’s K-12 finance system, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce has recommended that the state transition to a new school funding system that would tie the majority of the state’s $7.5 billion in spending directly to student need.
The publication of the report — titled Smarter Funding, Better Outcomes: Georgia’s Roadmap for K-12 Finance Reform — comes after more than six months of research and analysis by Public Impact, a nationally recognized education policy and management consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C. The research was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and overseen by the Georgia Chamber. The report can be found at www.SmartK12Funding.com.
“Georgia business leaders cite workforce development as one the biggest issues facing their companies today,” said Chamber President and CEO Chris Clark. “The education of our workforce starts in the elementary grades and builds through high school — and with Georgia lagging behind the nation in many key indicators, our schools are clearly not performing at the levels they should be. The key question is this: Given the current financial constraints, can we follow the examples of other states and improve student outcomes without increasing the money we spend?
“This report begins to answer that question,” continued Clark, “and suggests some steps our elected leaders can take to make sure that every dollar the state spends on education is used efficiently, effectively and rewards the success of our students and teachers.”
“As a state, we face no more important challenge than strengthening our K-12 system and doing the best possible job of educating Georgia’s children,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “It’s heartening to see organizations like the Georgia Chamber stepping forward to contribute to our work in this area with the type of research and policy thinking reflected in this report. The report and its recommendations deserve serious consideration.”
The report includes the following recommendations for improving Georgia’s K-12 finance system:
• Revise QBE so that the vast majority of funding is allocated through a student-based budgeting (SBB) model, where funding reflects the relative cost of educating students based on their needs. A total of 90 to 95 percent of state K-12 funding could be included in an SBB formula. The State Commission on Education Finance also recommended this model receive additional focus in 2013.
• Create incentives to foster innovation aimed at increasing performance. Specifically, lift as many restrictions on state funding and expenditures as possible; challenge district leadership to achieve better results within existing budgets; offer “innovation grants” to districts that develop dramatic and coherent plans for using technology or other approaches with high potential to improve student learning within existing funds; and build the state’s capacity to intervene or parents’ ability to initiate change in cases of chronic low performance.
• Build data and reporting systems that link funding, expenditures and student outcomes in meaningful ways. Create a single repository for financial data, including both revenue and expenditure data at the state, district and school levels; link the financial data to the state’s longitudinal data system, which includes information on hundreds of student and teacher characteristics (including student achievement); clearly identify how education dollars flow by creating financial reports that show enrollment counts for different categories of student need and the amount of funding allocated for each; and develop and report on a set of “power metrics” that can allow the state to evaluate how well districts meet key strategies.
“As business leaders, we understand the importance of periodically reviewing our existing systems and making adjustments to increase productivity and results — and that is exactly what this research has done for Georgia’s education finance system,” said Clark. “We look forward to working with the Governor, the State Superintendent, members of the General Assembly and other key education leaders to determine how these important findings can be implemented — maximizing each dollar spent on education so we can do better by our students and families and give employers what they need to create jobs for decades to come.”
The recommendations were developed by Public Impact, a national education policy and management consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, N.C. Public Impact conducted a thorough examination of recent Georgia Department of Education data and national performance rankings to evaluate the state’s current K-12 finance structure (primarily Quality Basic Education, or QBE) against nationally recognized, high-quality characteristics such as equity, efficiency and effectiveness, flexibility and accountability, and transparency.
The recommendations address new opportunities for shifting Georgia’s system toward a streamlined, needs-based formula with the capacity to track financial and student performance data over time — providing policymakers with enhanced information to guide future decisions impacting public education in Georgia.