Georgia Districts Nearing Insolvency, But Funding Commission Recommends Only Minor Changes

Last Updated: September 26, 2012

This article appeared in the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

More than $4 billion in “austerity” cuts have been made to Georgia’s K–12 education budget in the last four years. In response, schools have cut more than 4,000 teaching jobs as well as programs, services, and supplies. So many school districts are catastrophically strapped for cash that the state has issued a blanket waiver on class size and length of school year. Under the waiver, many districts have reduced the number of days they hold school and increased the number of students in each class. Some districts have consolidated in an effort to save money, but those districts have seen dropout rates rise as a result of hours-long bus rides.

Even with these “cost savings” measures, five small rural districts began the school year with negative cash balances. Some districts are operating on loans, which banks seem increasingly unwilling to renew without evidence that districts will be able to repay them. And it’s not clear how these schools will continue to operate or how many more districts will soon join their ranks. Experts say this is the worst situation for schools since the Great Depression.

Yet when the State Education Finance Study Commission released its recommendations earlier this month, it suggested only minor increases in funding for computers, teacher training, buses, counselors, and psychologists. The legislature will decide whether to follow the recommendations. The Commission opted not to address teacher salaries, class sizes or other major issues, citing a lack of revenue for such an overhaul.

There’s another twist to this story. A November ballot measure asks voters to change the charter school law. If approved, a new charter commission could overrule districts and the state(which can already authorize charters) to establish charter schools. Those charter would receive per pupil state funding as well as local money from the district. Critics say the amendment wording is misleading and fails to indicate the budget impact on local schools. The amendment reads: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?”

This past year the legislature nearly doubled its per-pupil funding for charter schools, money which will go to state-approved charters no matter what voters decide this fall. Under this provision, some charter schools would receive two and a half times the per pupil funding of regular schools; and virtual charters would receive about twice as much per pupil, according to an analysis by the Georgia State Superintendents Association.

Georgia has not updated its funding formula since 1986, and the formula has never been fully funded by the Legislature. The Commission was created by the Legislature in 2011 to review the method of funding schools and includes gubernatorial appointments along with legislative and education agency staff.

A similar committee disbanded in 2006 without releasing recommendations.

Editor’s note: see previous RSFN coverage on Georgia charter debate here.

Read more:

Local coverage:

Coverage on latest impacts of underfunding on rural districts:

Website of the Commission:

Read more from the September 2012 Rural Policy Matters.