For the last year and a half, I have served on the State Education Finance Study Commission, and as chair of the subcommittee on classroom costs and the state’s education funding formula, Quality Basic Education (QBE).
On Sept. 30, the commission made its final recommendations to the Governor, delivering a list of prioritized changes that will help the state better allocate K-12 education resources. Some of these changes will require additional funds be added to education programs in order to implement. A few changes will result in savings to the state. Some changes have no fiscal impact, but require either a policy shift or further study.
The commission made first-round recommendations that were passed during the 2012 legislative session which included initial legislation for nursing, transportation and professional development covered later in this article. This fall’s recommendations complete the work of the commission, fulfilling our charge to examine ways to modernize education funding in Georgia. The top-prioritized recommendations deal with technology infrastructure, school counselors, transportation, school nurses and professional learning. Other recommendations address additional support services, capital outlay, the Equalization formula and ways to simplify QBE. We hope that this set of changes will help local systems in providing a solid education to Georgia’s students.
The top recommendation by the commission is to fund an expansion of technology infrastructure for schools. The commission found that, although the state does provide funds for bandwidth for schools to access the Internet and districts to access our state data system, many systems are using their own funding to buy additional access – often two or three times what the state provides.
With the goal to expand both access and infrastructure needed to support it, the technology recommendation contains two parts: (1) The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) will continue to develop a plan for expanding the PeachNet system, which is run by the University System of Georgia, to connect with K-12 schools and make use of currently unused bandwidth; and (2) DOE will examine the creation of a capital grant for technology infrastructure for schools, funded at $20 million over the next three years. Such a grant could be distributed on a per-school basis and require a local match. This would help incentivize district spending on technology, as well as allow them to retrofit older buildings as needed to prepare for higher technology usage, or to put in equipment with longer-term potential use such as Wi-Fi systems or servers.
The commission recognizes the growing importance of school counselors in preparing students for graduation and ensuring college and career readiness by making its second priority the enhancement of funding for counselors. Currently, students in some programs do not earn funding for counselors for their districts. The commission recommends that QBE gradually move to a one-to-450 students funding ratio of counselors to students across all programs, which will increase the amount of earnings generated for school counselors by about $19.9 million from FY14 to FY16.
The commission recommends that bonds for buses be increased from $25 million (as appropriated in the FY13 general budget) to $45 million per year, and that the state increase funding of the current transportation formula to one-half of costs, which would require an additional $22.5 million between FY15 and FY16. Policy recommendations were to exempt school systems from the motor fuel tax and to encourage them to install stop-arm cameras to catch vehicles that drive by a stopped bus.
In the 2012 session, the legislature passed SB 403, which established an FTE-based formula for funding school nurses, with the state paying for half the total cost. The commission recommends that the phase-in of state funds be continued at a cost of $3.2 million in FY14 and $3.1 million in FY15.
Passed in the 2012 session, SB 404 establishes that school leaders will now earn funding for professional development, in addition to the current teaching and support personnel. The bill also requires that the Professional Standards Commission and the Department of Education receive a small portion of overall professional development funds in order to better oversee spending and develop new statewide strategic professional development. This will require an addition of $6.2 million to fund.
Next week: Fiscal vs. non-fiscal recommendations
I may be reached at
234 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
(404) 656-5038 (phone)
(404) 657-7094 (fax)
E-mail at Jack.Hill@senate.ga.gov
Or call toll-free at
1-800-367-3334 day or night
Reidsville office: (912) 557-3811