By David Pendered
A new report that calls for overhauling Georgia’s method of paying for K-12 education has landed near the starting gate of a potentially contentious gubernatorial campaign.
State Sen. Jason Carter (D-Decatur) has put education reform at the front and center of his new platform. Gov. Nathan Deal responded immediately that he has increased the state’s contribution to school funding despite the recession.
The timing couldn’t be better for a report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute that calls for the creation of a funding program to replace the state’s existing school funding formula, known as QBE (Quality Basic Education).
The call for action in GBPI’s report states:
- “Now more than 25 years old, the QBE formula does not align with research-based or field-tested best practices in instruction or the organization and financing of schools and districts. Georgia needs a new education funding system for the 21st century.”
QBE was enacted in 1985, a time when Pete Rose was a national baseball icon who had not yet been busted as a baseball gambler, and Joe Frank Harris was Georgia’s governor. QBE was intended to equalize school funding so that children had a shot at the same quality of education regardless of whether they lived in a rich or poorer school district.
Georgia’s schools were ranked 20th in the nation in an April report by usnews.com. The same report listed the top 10 high schools in Georgia as being in cities – metro Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus and Savannah. One Georgia school was ranked No. 3 in the nation – Gwinnett County’s School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, in Lawrenceville.
State lawmakers have tinkered with the QBE program over the years. Most notably, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue sought to remake the allotment formula as part of an effort to put a Republican stamp on education. The legislature didn’t enact wide-ranging revisions.
By many counts, Carter’s candidacy should be a long shot in a state that has voted Republican so consistently on so many levels. But as SaportaReport.com columnist Tom Baxter noted, Deal’s swift response to Carter’s announcement suggests the governor takes the threat seriously. Deal ran out a rebuttal to Carter’s comments that is similar to one from the spring, when the purpose seemed intended to undercut the inter-party challenge Deal faces from state school Superintendent John Barge – who is running on an education platform.
GBPI contends that Georgia lawmakers have been underfunding the QBE formula for 12 years, long before the recent – and lingering – recession.
This situation is fueling GBPI’s position, outlined in the new report, that the realities of funding pressures and evolution within education have created a need for a totally new method of providing funds for public education. The report is anything but shrill and even praises lawmakers for past successes:
- “In many ways, Georgia has been at the forefront of state efforts to raise student achievement overall and to close the achievement gap. It created a new framework for strengthening teacher and leader quality that includes teacher preparation, induction, retention and evaluation. The state developed a comprehensive data system to help teachers better monitor student progress and tailor instruction to individual students, while also serving as an instructional resource. Georgia is making progress toward transforming struggling schools. These are important steps forward.”
Of course, that kind of kudo is going to be followed by a “but.” And GBPI’s version is:
“But they are not enough. Promising policies must be supported by adequate resources.
- “Districts across Georgia are struggling to provide core services to their students. They are scaling back on ‘extras’ and increasingly on essentials. They are attempting to stretch dwindling resources to cover costs over which they often have little control such as rising health care and energy expenses. They are working to ensure the more than 1 million economically disadvantaged students in Georgia’s public schools have the additional support they need to succeed. In the midst of this, they are also implementing the state’s new policies often with little sustained support.
- “Georgia leaders must align state funding for public schools with their expectations for students and Georgia’s economic needs. They must invest the resources necessary to reach these goals. Doing less is a hollow promise that leaves many students and the state behind.”
The report doesn’t outline a proposal to revise state education funding. It does provide two broad recommendations:
- “Develop an education funding system that supports success for all students in the 21st century” that will:
- “Provide adequate financial support to meet the full needs of an increasingly diverse student population;
- “Support best instructional practice;
- “Offer greater flexibility;
- “Promote accountability for the effective use of resources.”
- “Ensure tax and budget policies align with the new funding system.”
The new report follows up on a GBPI report in September that argued the Legislature has cut billions from K-12 education. Notwithstanding Deal’s claim after Carter’s announcement, GBPI’s report says the current school year is the fifth for which the Legislature cut $1 billion or more from the QBE formula. This is the 12th consecutive year QBE has been underfunded, according to the report.
Education funding is stepping onto a stage that’s already crowded with revenue issues. Some advocates of a proposed fair tax would like to see tax reform put on the ballot as early as 2014, and backers include Americans for Progress, though its chief has stepped down to join Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition.