Overhaul of Georgia’s school funding formula overdue and necessary to drive improvements

Originally Published: Atlanta Journal Constitution, Get Schooled Blog – November 19, 2015
Overhaul of Georgia’s school funding formula overdue and necessary to drive improvements

Editor’s Note: Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission meets this afternoon to finalize recommendations, including how to fund Georgia Schools.

Patricia Levesque, the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education organization founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, discusses the commission’s proposal on funding.

By Patricia Levesque

In the mid-1980s, Georgia tackled the tough task of enacting a new school funding formula to bridge the gaping chasm between the haves and have-nots among school districts. It represented a bold reform at that time, bringing much-needed new resources to the have-nots.

Those changes met the needs of the 1980s – but there hasn’t been a major update since. Now, 30 years later, we need another dose of visionary change to address the realities of today’s modern classrooms. The student-based reforms put forward by Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission would deliver just that.

We would never limit ourselves to the knowledge, progress and technology of the 1980s. We’ve upgraded from landlines to mobile phones, from VCRs to DVRs, from Commodore 64s to touchscreen tablets. In 1986, Americans would have thought the World Wide Web sounded like an alien spider attack, not a global communications tool that touches nearly aspect of our lives.

Consider this: One of the largest states in the nation now uses a pre-Internet approach to paying for education. Georgia’s school financing system was not built with the flexibility needed to support the wave of educational innovations spreading across the nation, nor with the incentives needed to drive improved student outcomes.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education last month polled Georgians about their views on K-12 funding. We found that nearly half think the more than $9,000 the state spends per child in K-12 education is “about right,” while a third said the state should spend more. But when they had to choose between reform and simply spending more, Georgians favored reforming the funding model by a 67 to 25 percent margin.

Tellingly, at least 10 other states are already achieving better results for their students with the same amount or even fewer dollars per student – including neighbors like Florida, North Carolina and Tennessee.­

The new student-based funding approach recommended by Gov. Deal’s Commission provides a guidebook for how Georgia can upgrade its strategic investments in students. The new formula replaces an indecipherable, rigid and outdated system with one that is transparent, flexible and efficient.

The current formula, called Quality Basic Education, is school- or program-based, meaning funding follows programs, classes or staff positions – not students. This makes it difficult to know if students are truly getting the services they need for academic success.

Under the proposed formula, districts would receive a base funding amount for all students, with additional funds provided for students who require more educational services than others to be successful, such as disabled or economically disadvantaged students.

Georgians overwhelmingly support providing extra funding for students in need. For example, our poll showed that 77 percent favor extra funding for children living in poverty.

In addition, the new formula would empower schools to spend their funding in ways that best fit the needs of their students, a change that 80 percent of Georgians support. For instance, a school might offer better salaries to its highest performing teachers, who could agree to take on additional responsibilities. A teacher might decide to work with more students, but bring in new technologies to help personalize their instruction – hardware and software that could be funded under the new formula.

Lastly, it is more transparent. The new, simple formula allows taxpayers to clearly see how much money is allocated per student and why. That’s something 89 percent of Georgians favor.

These steps will upgrade Georgia’s educational system, but bringing Georgia’s funding formula into the 21st century is not the ultimate goal. What really matters is that doing so will help schools deliver better results for students – and this is just the start. Our goal is an education system that equips every Georgia student for success.