By David Pendered
A new report on Georgia’s education funding, from an Atlanta think tank, offers more fodder for the gubernatorial battle between Gov. Nathan Deal and challenger Sen. Jason Carter.
The report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute finds little improvement since GBPI’s similar report last year – which determined that cutbacks in funding for K-12 education were causing local districts to trim days from the school year and assign more students to each teacher.
The GBPI report, “The Schoolhouse Squeeze 2014,” provides context for Carter’s claims that Deal has, “slashed billions of dollars from public education,” and for Deal’s claims that he has “prioritized education and child safety funding as state revenues rebound from the Great Recession.”
GBPI’s senior education policy analyst, Claire Suggs, has presented an update of a report she provided last year. The tone of this year’s report is similar to that of the 2013 edition.
This year’s report begins with this gloomy overview:
- “Georgia’s 180 school districts continue to face enormous financial pressures.
- “The Georgia Legislature cut more than $8.4 billion in funding for public schools in recent years. At the same time, local funding for schools slipped precipitously following the plunge in property values triggered by the Great Recession. The growing number of students in poverty compounds the challenges that districts confront.
- “While grappling with these combined pressures, districts are also working hard to increase student achievement.”
For the sake of comparison, this is the beginning of the 2013 overview:
- “Georgia’s school districts are struggling against a relentless financial squeeze.
- “The Georgia Legislature cut billions in state funding for public schools in recent years, while plunging property values drove down the main local source of revenue, the property tax. Meanwhile, the number of low-income students is soaring, putting additional demands on school resources.
- “These forces combine to put tremendous strain on districts at a time when they are working to lift student achievement to higher levels than ever.”
Incidentally, GBPI has recently released its “State of Working Georgia 2014” report, which makes a clear connection between educational attainment and income as the state comes out of the depth of the recession.
Every school district in metro Atlanta has been shortchanged by the state when it comes to K-12 funding, according to the report. The statewide shortfall cited in this year’s report is $8.4 billion, which compares to the shortfall of $7.6 billion cited in GBPI’s report from 2013.
According to GBPI’s 2014 report:
- “The cumulative shortfall in the QBE funding formula since 2003 is $8.4 billion. No district is spared, and the cuts have been applied without regard for the needs of students or the ability of districts to raise more money locally. The districts with the largest cumulative cuts from the funding formula are shown in Table 2. Because the formula is based on student enrollment, these districts include the largest in the state.”
In the gubernatorial campaign, Carter and Deal have sparred over education funding through the summer. It remains to be seen how much the issue will carry over into the campaign as it begins in earnest after the tradition start on Labor Day.
Here are some highlights from the candidates’ campaign web sites.
Deal, as governor, also notes his credentials on the topic on his state web site. Carter does not appear to note his credentials on the topic on his state web site.
- “K-12 Funding – Gov. Deal’s administration has slashed billions of dollars from public education, resulting in teachers being furloughed, larger class sizes, and less individual attention for struggling students. While Georgia schoolchildren are getting shortchanged in the classroom, many Georgia families are paying more in property taxes. In fact, dozens of districts raised local property taxes to make up for the governor’s cuts to education.”
- “HOPE Scholarship – HOPE is vanishing. Under Governor Deal’s failed reforms, HOPE continues to cover less and less of the costs of attending college. Every year more high-achieving students will be left behind, unable to go to college. It’s already happening: For the first time in decades, enrollments at two-year, four-year, and technical colleges across Georgia declined in 2012.”
- “Sen. Jason Carter has based his entire campaign on attacking Gov. Nathan Deal’s education record. Unfortunately for Carter, that means he is also attacking himself. Despite voting for Deal’s budgets for the past three years, which he now attacks, Carter voted against a $500 million education increase this year. Rather than support the largest increase in education investment in seven years, Carter played politics.
- ““To borrow a phrase from the state senator, who was raised and educated in Chicago, the only proposals he’s offered are a ‘shell game,’” said Deal for Governor spokeswoman Jen Talaber. “His ‘education first’ budget is modeled after Alabama’s, which state officials admit has failed miserably by all accounts. His other phony promise is to increase education spending by $1 billion without raising taxes. On any given day, Sen. Carter has a different ‘plan’ to fund education. None of them are serious.”