One of the most pungent commenters on education issues in the state is former Henry County superintendent Herb Garrett, who is now executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association
In response to the prospect of more school cuts and the pledge of Gov.-elect Nathan Deal to grant schools more flexibility rather than more money, Garret said, “We’ve been getting some flexibility now for several years and Georgia Power just won’t accept flexibility as payment for electric bills.”
The relentless cuts to education come at a time when the state and feds are making unprecedented demands on schools to educate more students to higher standards. Can those goals be met with the larger class sizes and diminished resources that have resulted from the deep cuts to education spending in Georgia?
That is the question facing our schools today. And it has a new urgency now that Deal says state finances are so bad that he predicts even deeper cuts to education.
Deal’s forecast — though absent specifics — came as educators across the state are still adjusting to major changes — such as bigger classes, condensed school years and furloughs or layoffs — that many districts were forced to implement this year to trim budgets.
Budget cuts from the state are not new, partly because of declining revenue during the recession, as well as austerity cuts that have been in place since 2003. At least for the past five years, local school districts have been shorted millions that they were due under the Quality Basic Education Act, the state formula for funding public education.
For the current fiscal year, the districts were shorted a combined $915 million. That’s on top of state cuts of $654.1 million in fiscal 2010, $93 million in fiscal 2009, $143 million in fiscal 2008 and $170 million in fiscal 2007, according to records of the state Department of Education.
“We’ve seen a radical decline in state funding for public education over the last seven or eight years, to the point that the state’s QBE funding formula has little meaning anymore,” said Jay Dillon, a spokesman for the Cobb County School District. “At this point, there are few options remaining if the state again decides to cut funding for Cobb schools by tens of millions of dollars.”
Since 2003, Cobb has not received $280 million that it was due in QBE funding, Dillon said.
Herb Garrett, executive director of the State School Superintendents Association, said Wednesday that additional cuts are likely to hurt across the board.
“It hurts everybody, but it really hurts the poor systems, the ones that don’t have a very good property tax base to try to cushion the blow,” Garrett said.
Since his election in November, Deal has been going over the details of an amended budget for the current year and a 2012 spending plan that he will submit to the General Assembly in January. On Tuesday, he warned that “tough choices” will be coming in education spending, though he pledged to give local school districts more flexibility with the money they receive from the state.
– By Maureen Downey, the AJC Get Schooled blog