February 3, 2023 7:39 am

Local News

Georgia’s Circa 1985 K-12 School Funding Formula Set for a Redo

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by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder

Georgians who started kindergarten the year the state adopted its K-12 education funding formula are now in their forties, but the formula remains essentially unchanged.

The 1985 Quality Basic Education Act guides the state in distributing nearly $11 billion to its 1.6 million public school students, but calls for change have been growing louder in recent years. Since its inception, the state’s population has roughly doubled, and costs for expenses like transportation, technology and counselors have radically changed in the intervening decades.

“One thing that we do know, and everybody knows is that, you know, this was done in the 80s, the QBE formula, and it’s not going to take into account things that are vitally important now, technology, some of our transportation costs, things like that,” said Georgia Department of Education external affairs director Matt Cardoza. “So we’re certainly in favor of modernizing around the formula without necessarily tackling an overhaul.”

Between 2002 and 2017, QBE did not receive full funding, and critics point out that Georgia is one of only six states that do not allocate extra money to students living in poverty.

Past attempts to modernize the formula were abandoned in the face of political turbulence, but 2023 could be the year the formula is updated. A state Senate committee held meetings over the fall to discuss potential tweaks, and the appetite is there, said Sen. Mike Dugan, chairman of the committee, though the changes may not be as sweeping as some hope for.

“I fully anticipate something coming out this year, but I don’t think when it comes out, I’m sure people gonna go ‘Well, they really didn’t do a massive change on anything.’ But I’ve said that all the time. We’re not throwing it away, we’re tweaking a formula that, for the most part, has been pretty effective.”

Dugan said changes he wants to consider include increasing the number of counselors per student and weighing poverty as a factor, though he said he’s not completely sold yet.

“They made a compelling argument during the study committee that it would be impactful, but there was no give and take on the study committee and no resources available to us from, whether it be Senate research or the department of education or anybody. I need to know what impact this will have, and have more than opinion and have actual data come back to us.”

“I’m intrigued by it enough that I want to know a lot more about it to see whether we should include it,” he added.

The current formula already provides different funding for students depending on needs, said Georgia Budget and Policy Institute education director Stephen Owens.

“There’s this recognition that if you are a student with a disability, then you might need a lower class size accommodation, so there’s additional funding that that child is commanded in order to be educated equitably,” he said. “That’s the same for (Career, Technical and Agricultural Education). The same for gifted classes. That is what equity is, that different needs require different funding amounts. But we know that students’ income is one of the largest challenges that schools face, and there’s no funding in the formula to recognize that today. And so we’re hoping we can change that and join the rest of the country.”

The Legislature could also move to fund more school counselors this year. Currently, Georgia has enough funding for one counselor for every 419 students, Owens said. The American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students.

Studies suggest that providing adequate school counselors can help increase graduation rates and reduce discipline problems.

In his budget plan released Friday, Gov. Brian Kemp called for an $26.9 million increase in funding for school counselors “to help address our students’ emotional and mental well-being in school.”

That money is part of a $1.1 billion increase in education funding over the previous year, which also includes $303 million to a $2,000 pay raise for teachers and school personnel, a $15 million grant to encourage paraprofessionals to obtain their teaching certification, $50,000 in school safety grants to every K-12 school in the state totaling $115 million and $25 million for learning loss grants following the pandemic. The budget needs to be approved by both chambers of the state Legislature.

Speaking as a panelist during a Voices for Georgia’s Children program this month at the Georgia Freight Depot, Dugan said he is interested in how the state can make sure enough young people are interested in getting into student mental health as a career.

“What I want to be perfectly blunt on with all this is we keep talking about the need for increasing the number of school psychologists that we have in K-12. I agree with you 100%. We don’t have enough school psychologists to meet the gaps that we have with our numbers right now.”

Dugan said university programs in Georgia that train school psychologists are not fully enrolled.

“We can’t just wave a hand here under the Gold Dome and say, ‘We are going to this, and everything will magically happen,’” he said.  “If we don’t have enough of them to fill those needs, then we’re no better off than what we are right now.”

This story was written by Ross Williams, an editor at the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared. Deputy Editor Jill Nolin also contributed to this report.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.