School is out for summer!
While this may be true for students and teachers, it does not mean that education is not on the mind of Georgia’s state legislature.
From charter schools to QBE funding to the Atlanta school system cheating scandal, education in our state has remained a hot topic during the summer.
As a result of the Georgia Charter School Act of 1993, the first three charter schools opened in our state in 1995 and the results have been impressive. In the past four years alone, the 170 charter schools in Georgia have increased in the number of schools making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) at 85 percent and achieved over an 80 percent graduation rate.
In May of this year, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the state Charter School Commission created in 1998 to authorize charter schools directly — even over the objection of local school boards — was unconstitutional. This ruling creates confusion for thousands of students across our state and threatens one of the most successful programs in our public school system.
At the root of the problem is money. Charter schools approved by the state — even over the local government’s objection — require partial funding from local funds, a fact that does not set well with the local governments.
Although charter schools enroll only 4 percent of the total public school population in the state, proponents say they provide choices for parents when deciding what’s best for their child’s education, and, arguably, make other public schools better through increased competition.
While the Supreme Court ruling was disappointing for many, the reality is that charter schools are here to stay and, while only time will tell, the ruling could help solidify them in our state. Already a Senate subcommittee has been created to address the ruling and recommend potential legislation, including a constitutional amendment, to ensure that educational choice remains in Georgia.
Also being studied in education this summer is the state’s main education funding formula, Quality Basic Education (QBE), that was created in 1985 and whose expenses have only been recalculated once since then to adjust for the effects of inflation.
QBE, considered antiquated by most educators, is a weighted formula that determines state funding for local public schools by calculating a per-student, or “full-time equivalents” (FTEs), cost based on direct and indirect instructional costs based on the grade of the student. One FTE is made up of six segments, with each individual student counted for each segment of the day.
The Education Finance Study Commission, a 20-member committee made up of key legislators as well as the State School Superintendent and University System Chancellor, was created by the legislature this past session and charged with the responsibility of revamping or replacing the QBE formula. The commission held their first meeting on June 30 and is expected to spend the next 18 to 20 months studying the issue before issuing a report.
The commission is also expected to consider other funding issues such as the above mentioned charter schools and virtual schools, as well as private school scholarships and school choice.
It is worth mentioning that this is the sixth committee appointed and charged with revamping QBE since it was created 25 years ago with little or no change being generated from past committees.
Few question that QBE has not kept up with the times. With schools’ increasing need for technology or issues such as the rising costs of textbooks or local school systems taking more than $1 billion in austerity cuts, the current QBE formula can no longer be considered appropriate.
Besides, what constituted a quality basic education in 1985 certainly has changed over the years.
And while everyone understands that more spending in education is needed, with over 55 percent of the state budget earmarked for education at all levels — including almost 40 percent to K-12 directly — an already stressed budget will be hard pressed to handle even more.
Sen. Buddy Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building (CLOB) Room 301-A, Atlanta GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.