School funding: Should Georgia parents sue the state?

Here’s an op-ed running today on the AJC education page.  This provocative piece is by Luis A. Velez, the parent of two children in the Coweta public schools. (Repeating again my request for op-ed submissions for the weekly education page. If you want to submit one, send it to me at mdowney@ajc.com. Op-eds must run with bylines. )

Enjoy this piece:

By Luis A. Velez

A political firestorm regarding public education in Florida may soon hit Georgia.

What do you do if you’re a public school parent who is fed up with the inferior quality of education your children are receiving? How do you deal with budget cuts that are crippling the system and even forcing teachers to beg for essential supplies, like crayons and pencils? If you’re a public school parent in Florida, you sue the state.

The Florida Supreme Court recently made history by holding that the Florida legislature can be held accountable for the quality of the state’s public schools. Specifically, the Court held that citizen-plaintiffs had stated a claim worth pursuing at trial, namely, that the Florida legislature is violating its “paramount duty” to provide and fund a “high quality” system of free public schools, as required by Article IX, Section 1 of Florida’s Constitution.

The Florida lawsuit promises to be instructive to Georgians on several fronts. First, Florida’s “paramount duty” to provide a “high quality” public education for its children sets one of the highest standards for state support of public schools in the nation. Most states only guarantee an “efficient” system of public education. In comparison, Georgia’s Constitution requires the provision of an “adequate” education. The suit might help clarify the differences in each standard.

The lawsuit also calls into question the crucial issue of whether public school education represents a fundamental right, like Free Speech. If not, what is the state’s legal duty to educate its children? The answers to these questions are of great interest to many disaffected Georgian parents of public school students who wonder what kind of education their children are being “guaranteed,” and are prepared to challenge the “adequacy” of the education their children are being provided.

These issues were previously litigated. In the 1973 case of San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, the U.S. Supreme Court held that education is not a fundamental right and the Equal Protection Clause does not require absolute equality in school funding or prohibit “rational” disparities in educational funding. Thus, it refused to overturn Texas’ educational funding system that provided public schools with a “foundation” level of state funding, and enabled districts to augment state public school funding using revenues from local property taxes. This created funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.

It may be time for the Court to revisit these issues. Part of what is driving the Florida suit is that the state’s share of education funding has dropped from nearly 62 percent to about 44 percent, as lawmakers have shifted the responsibility for funding public schools to local communities through property taxes. This has made it virtually impossible for poor school districts to provide a “high quality” education. Even wealthy school districts are balking at their ever increasing funding burden.

What does all of this mean to Georgians? Before the parents of Georgia’s public school students rush to file comparable suits, they should understand a few things. First, Georgia’s Constitution only calls for the state to provide an “adequate” education, which is a much easier standard for the state to meet than in Florida. Also, in Georgia, state funds still account for over 60 percent of public education expenses, much higher than in Florida.

Nonetheless, the overall quality of public education in Georgia remains poor and its high school graduation rate is dismally low. Also, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rodriguez that education is not a fundamental right, the Court has consistently stated that education is, “perhaps the most important function of state and local government…and the very foundation of good citizenship.” One wonders how can an uneducated populace properly exercise fundamental rights, such as First Amendment freedoms or the right to vote? Doesn’t this place the right to an education on the same footing as these other fundamental rights? They seem inexorably linked.

Given the anti-government furor that is sweeping the nation, this may be enough for Georgian parents to have a Howard Beale moment, in which they throw open their windows and shout, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” To borrow a metaphor from Sarah Palin, perhaps it’s time for Georgia’s Mama (and Papa) Bulldogs, Panthers, and other public school parents to test the legal waters again to ensure our children receive an adequate public education. Some argue our kids deserve at least that much.

– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

91 comments Add your comment

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
9:18 am

The Georgia Constitution, Article VIII, Paragraph I:

Public education; free public education prior to college or postsecondary level; support by taxation . The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation. The expense of other public education shall be provided for in such manner and in such amount as may be provided by law .

Thanks

December 27th, 2010
9:23 am

Thank you again for perpetuating the assumption that all children in Georgia are receiving an inferior education in the public school system.

Maureen Downey

December 27th, 2010
9:31 am

@Thanks, I have always said many kids are getting a great education. There are impressive schools in almost every district in the state, including the much maligned — at least on this blog — APS and DeKalb.
But we don’t have nearly enough of those schools statewide.
Even within districts, you can find incredible schools five miles down the road from terrible ones.
Maureen

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
9:40 am

So many variables: amount of funding, educational levels of the parents, socioeconomic status of students & parents, quality of teachers – what makes the biggest difference?

I still think the biggest fraud our state is perpetuating on students and parents is that of telling them that students who pass the CRCT and EOCTs are “proficient” in the subject matter being tested, when they could be anything but.

Mikey D

December 27th, 2010
9:55 am

Our politicians and policy makers will simply say that children aren’t receiving a top-notch education because of poor teaching, rather than accepting their own blame for the inadequate funding that has been rampant since day one of the sonny administration.

d

December 27th, 2010
9:59 am

I agree ScienceTeacher – I always give a short assignment the first day of the term just to get a one-paragraph writing sample. Bear in mind, I teach seniors, so most of them have passed the GHSWT. I wonder how. Frankly, just to beat a dead horse here, since the Governor-elect is going to swear to uphold the Georgia Constitution, how can he (or any member of the General Assembly) ignore that clause that starts Article VIII?

catlady

December 27th, 2010
10:02 am

I think the parents of “regular” kids should sue for a free and appropriate public education for their students. Right now, many of them are not getting the “appropriate” part. That includes the adequate provision, and more. It seems like the children who come the closest to getting FAPE are sped kids.

teacher&mom

December 27th, 2010
10:02 am

Remember the poor, rural school districts that tried to sue the state? They didn’t get very far.

Atlanta Media Guy

December 27th, 2010
10:02 am

I’ll tell you how to give children a better education. Stop paying administrators in the Central Office, who never teach, speak or engage with the students, bloated salaries and pensions that will eventually bankrupt a system that is teetering on the edge.

The funds must be placed back into the classrooms and schools. These wonderful programs, like America’s Choice, are scams of epic proportions, there is no data on the real return in investment these programs offer. It’s time we take this money and place back into the school house.

Dr NO

December 27th, 2010
10:04 am

Will do no good. Most who would want to sue are the very ones who allow their kids to do nothing and blame everyone except who is responsbile, themselves and their jail-bound kids.

Dr NO

December 27th, 2010
10:05 am

We need to forget about educating these little vagrants and begin buildling more prisons in order to house them.

Mikey D

December 27th, 2010
10:06 am

@Atlanta Media Guy

Those CO administrators sucking up all of the available funds sound very familiar to all of the new administrative positions that will come with RTTT and will instantly take up half of the money that the state “won”.

Phil

December 27th, 2010
10:09 am

teacher&mom- Yeah, Ole Sonny Perdue stopped that lawsuit real quick!

Old School

December 27th, 2010
10:15 am

And I have always said that there are many, many students in poorly performing schools that are getting great educations because they have excellent teachers and they work hard to get that education.

That broad brush paints an overall dismal picture, doesn’t it? Yet there are many success stories throughout Georgia that only their families and employers know. I guess we’ll just keep on focusing on the failures that are often brought on by small specific groups/individuals who can’t or won’t achieve.

teacher&mom

December 27th, 2010
10:17 am

@d…they ignore it because we allow them to ignore it. “We” being the voters and parents.

Teachers have been shut out. If we complain, we’re reminded of our “place” with snippets like….49th in education, teachers are the problem-not the solution, teachers are the lower one-third of all college graduates, etc.

Parents are manipulated through token promises of vouchers, school choice and charter schools. The reality is for most rural districts this will never be a realistic option.

Local control is being eroded by focusing the public’s attention on the dysfunctional boards.

I have a friend who is a former legislator. He says that an unhealthy number of folks in the Gold dome quietly resent education funding.

Lynn D

December 27th, 2010
10:19 am

“He says that an unhealthy number of folks in the Gold dome quietly resent education funding.”

This is not surprising at all, given the high number of state legislators who don’t or didn’t use public school for their own children.

What if

December 27th, 2010
10:25 am

Actually, I think you may have something, Maureen. The districts sued for equitable funding (well, sort of). Parents trying a class action for adequate education might have a shot, especially if the case could get beyond the business as usual state courts. Don’t know where the legal horsepower would come from though, given the costs involved and that the plaintiffs wouldn’t be suing for direct reimbursement.

David R

December 27th, 2010
10:26 am

In Kansas, litigation has proven time and time again to be the only way to get lawmakers to uphold their constitutional obligation to fund public education. Here’s a multi-part look at the current lawsuit: http://www.examiner.com/k-12-in-topeka/schools-for-fair-funding-files-lawsuit-on-election-day

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 27th, 2010
10:29 am

Maureen,

You’re right: we have many great public schools- just not enough. We have too many poor schools graduating poorly prepared people.

Science Teacher671 and d,

You’re right, too. We have kids who pass our CRCTs, GMSWTs and GHSGTs but who can’t read, calculate, write et al. as well as their peers in other areas of our country. Unfortunately, many of these students and their parents don’t appreciate this unseemly fact until the former can’t find jobs or gain admission to bona-fide colleges after high school graduation.

Furthermore, many other students and parents don’t realize the poor quality of the educational opportunity many of our public schools provide until these students have obtained worthless degrees and formidable debt loads from nominal colleges.

The remainder may never figure out that they and our larger society have been shortchanged.

Ernest

December 27th, 2010
10:31 am

I recall a colleague who was a school board member in Texas talking about the ‘Robin Hood’ method of school funding, i.e. take from the wealthy districts and giving to the poorer ones. His observation was that it did not signficantly improve the educational outcomes for the receiving districts.

This is where I must agree with Dr. Trotter, ensuring our schools are disciplined environments can go a long ways towards improving education for all. I’m sure this would not cost much.

Cobb Teacher

December 27th, 2010
10:33 am

Because of your Sarah Palin quote, I will NEVER read your blog again Maureen. But given the fact that a Georgia public education is of such low quality, I guess quoting HER would be appropriate.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 27th, 2010
10:38 am

Atlanta Media Guy,

We do need ongoing audits of the efficacy of each and every program- no matter how appealing its name. Throwing dollars at problems is not enough to solve them. Intensive audits of each program provide the best way to insure that the overwhelming majority of any money is spent to solve the problems at hand, not on administrative salaries and perks.

Bruce Kendall

December 27th, 2010
10:41 am

@ ScienceTeacher671- please do everyone a favor! When you talk or write about the CRCT, EOCT, or the Georgia High School Graduation test, please refer to them as a minimum standards test.

@ Mikey D- Accepting responsibility for failure is not in the politicians and policy makers Handbook.

@ Dr NO- building more prisons in order to house them is not the solution. Holding their parents responsible, and making parents in general a larger part of the process will go a long way in solving the challenges.

Maureen Downey

December 27th, 2010
10:43 am

@Cobb, I didn’t quote Sarah Palin.
Maureen

Dr. Yes

December 27th, 2010
10:46 am

if you want to reduce the cost of funding georgia schools – stop letting the kids of no taxpaying illegal immigrants get free schooling. please visit socal to see where georgia is quickly headed. Atlanta is LA East.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 27th, 2010
10:46 am

Ernest,

After spending 31 years in GA classrooms, I’ll have to agree with you and Dr. Trotter that offering a disciplined environment contributes substantially to a school’s success as an institution of learning. How much of the under-performance of our students on national tests is attributable to the disrespect, disorder and disruption which characterize many of the publicly-funded schools in which I’ve worked and which I’ve visited. How about a lawsuit to address this shortcoming of many- if not most- of our public schools?

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Neil Sullivan. Neil Sullivan said: RT @AJCGetSchooled: School funding: Should Georgia parents sue the state? http://bit.ly/i7Vicy [...]

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
11:04 am

@Bruce Kendall, they are supposed to be minimum standards tests, but as currently written, they aren’t even that. Therein lies the fraud.

Dr NO

December 27th, 2010
11:15 am


@ Dr NO- building more prisons in order to house them is not the solution. Holding their parents responsible, and making parents in general a larger part of the process will go a long way in solving the challenges.”

You have a very valid point Sir. However, these sorry parents have no interest in their own welfare, let alone that of their children. In a true utopian society your solution would be best and perhaps one day this may come to fruitition and everyone might be contributors.

Sadly I see that day never coming, hennce, we must be prepared to house these “animals” accordingly.

Really amazed

December 27th, 2010
11:16 am

I am confussed, “The overall quality of public education in GA remains poor and it’s graduation rate is dismally low”. Maureen, didn’t you recently run an article stating that Ga graduation rate is climbing and more children are passing GA high school graduation test? One day it seems like GA is the worse state in education and then another GA is king of the hill. Which is it???

Bruce Kendall

December 27th, 2010
11:18 am

@ ScienceTeacher671- If you are referring to 70% as being a minimum standard you are correct. I have copies of last years cut scores. I will refer to the tests as sub-minimal tests in the future.

Fred

December 27th, 2010
11:24 am

Cobb Teacher

December 27th, 2010
10:33 am

Because of your Sarah Palin quote, I will NEVER read your blog again Maureen. But given the fact that a Georgia public education is of such low quality, I guess quoting HER would be appropriate.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Given your lack of reading comprehension skills, it would be better if the thing you would “NEVER” do again was changed to teach. But then you know that in that you acknowledge your lack of proficiency in your last sentence. I mean, one would infer from your screen name that you are a teacher, in Cobb County Georgia to be exact, and you state it is a FACT that Georgia education is of poor quality.

Well looky here. We have a teacher who can’t read blaming it on a journalist because she (the teacher) couldn’t comprehend the article. if you can’t read, how can you teach?

Or maybe you CAN read, but “big words” and concepts are beyond you. Concepts like “Guest Op-Ed’s.” Concepts like having the “big word” BY followed by a name (By Luis A. Velez:) means that the person who wrote the piece is the same as the name following the BY.

Maybe you should spend less time on “politics” and more on learning to teach there Teacher in Cobb…………

Ernest

December 27th, 2010
11:36 am

Dr. Spinks, thanks for your reply. The question would be, who do we file the lawsuit against? As suggested by some in the past, the easiest solution could be through legislation and policies, i.e. empowering the teacher/school to take necessary action against persistently disruptive students. Obviously there would need to be some type of balance to ensure students rights are not being violated by an overzealous teacher. Assuming we can find this balance, a legislative remedy could be the ticket.

Bruce Kendall

December 27th, 2010
11:37 am

@ Really amazed- Georgia has the fifth largest number of Dropout Factories in the nation with 120 high schools where less than 60 percent graduate.
If you use the Cohort Method of calculating the graduation rate – a process that our current Governor agreed to use, but does not – last years graduation rate was 65%. However, the state uses a different formula which puts the number at 80.9% (If memory has not failed me). What happened to the 49,000 plus students that started out with the class of 2010, but did not graduate? The current procedure does not account for them.
State standardized test are sub-minimal standards tests, because to pass most of them you only need to get 48 to 58 percent of the answers correct. Nowhere is there a requirement to answer 70 percent correct to meet standard.

Sade

December 27th, 2010
11:39 am

It’s just a matter of time until a parent sues the school system for failing to adequately prepare their child for college.

Bruce Kendall

December 27th, 2010
11:41 am

meet standard, should have been “meet standards.”

GNGS

December 27th, 2010
11:41 am

According to Public Education Finances (2008, the most recent report from U.S. Census Bureau, http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/08f33pub.pdf):

Funding for elementary-secondary public school system in Georgia was $11,345 per pupil and ranked 26th (Table 11 in the report). The average for US was $12,028. FL was 27th with $11,338 per student.

Funding for elementary-secondary public school system in Georgia calculated as amounts to $1,000 personal income was $56.59 per pupil and ranked 7th (Table 12 in the report). Average was $49.00. FL was $42.04 and ranked 44th.

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
11:41 am

@ Bruce Kendall, when an 8th grader who is reading and doing math on a 4th grade level can pass the CRCT, I think that’s less than minimal, and for the state to say that such a student is even borderline “proficient” I believe is fraudulent.

When a 9th grader who gets 43% of the questions correct on an EOCT can still pass, in my opinion it’s fraudulent to say that such a student is even minimally proficient. When the state says that a student who gets 64% of the questions correct “exceeds expectations”, I think that either our expectations are entirely too low, or again, the GaDOE is perpetuating a fraud.

Sub-minimal tests is a better designation than minimal….

Bruce Kendall

December 27th, 2010
11:53 am

@ ScienceTeacher671- See we do agree, once we agree on the definition of the words used!

Really amazed

December 27th, 2010
11:53 am

@Bruce Kendall, thank you. I keep hearing how all of my friends and families children are in the gifted program, Straight A students, exceed on crct but somehow do very average when given national test itbs. We struggle financially every year about keeping our children in private or moving them to public. I understand that at a local middle school that the advanced content classes, which I understand is the middle level is basically the very average level. The basic class is for those that are behind. We aren’t seeing the straight A’s anymore for my high school son, however he also isn’t given a watered down education either. Other child not yet in high school, still straight A’s. When friends and family tell us about there children’s Straight A’s we say good for them. They always wonder how our kids are doing. We don’t say unless they ask. Then we say…they are doing good considering the challenging curr. I would like to say…we are more impressed with our children truly learning and being able to get through college than to just get to it.

Dr NO

December 27th, 2010
12:18 pm

I agree with Fred in that most teachers are very very stupid, should be fired and keep there mouths shut. Just a group of enabling excuse makers and molly coddlers.

pressures rising

December 27th, 2010
12:21 pm

From a Dekalb mom who’s son graduated in 2009: After thoroughly researching academia I chose the very best of offerings. I made certain my child was on task and he ended his high school career as a semi- finalist for the National Merit scholarship scoring 1990 on the SAT. Parents must be involved from birth throughout their childrens lives in order to make certain a very good education is obtained by all. We as parents have always had high expectations for our son. College has always been our goal for him, which he attends to this day. Rather than be a complainer, we chose to get and stay involved. The rewards have been very gratifying……Good Job Son!!!!!

Angela Palm

December 27th, 2010
12:31 pm

I’m confused by two statements in Mr. Velez’s piece:
“state’s share of education funding dropped from nearly 62 percent to about 44 percent” and “state funds still account for over 60 percent of public education expenses”

Those seem to be contradictory. Going by the revenue reports from 1996-2010 on DOE, the state high was 1998 and the low, no surprise, was 2010. In 2010, the state and local share are 43% each and the federal portion 14%. In 1998, the local share was 37%, the state 58%, and the federal 5%.

The difference in funding per FTE from local and state revenue may be clearer for some. Looking at the era of austerity cuts before the meltdown, 2002-2009, local revenue per FTE increased $1128 and state funding went up $310 per FTE.

The level of state funding looks very different district by district. APS’ funding was only 16% state in 2010 but Trion City was 76%.

Maureen made an excellent point yesterday about a court case. Go to court to what end? Who would fund the parental side? The state can keep it tied up a long time — just ask those districts that sued — and that is expensive. If it made it to court and the parents prevailed, the legislature and Gov would still have to agree to an appropriation.

A good place to start would be funding based on the current formulas. At least include in the budget the amount that should have been appropriated based on the formula and the amount actually appropriated for QBE, equalization and transportation.

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
12:38 pm

@Angela Palm, read again. I think in one case he is talking about Florida, and in the other, Georgia.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

December 27th, 2010
12:45 pm

Science Teacher671,

Thanks for spreading the word about the fraudulent academic achievement standards set and publicized by our GDOE!

Really Amazed,

Congratulations to you and your husband for providing your offspring access to more challenging educational opportunities than are available in many of our public schools!

ScienceTeacher671

December 27th, 2010
12:47 pm

Bruce Kendall, yes, I think we do agree!

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming.

December 27th, 2010
1:01 pm

Dr. NO,

THIS “stupid” teacher at least knows the correct use of the forms of “there” (sic), how to punctuate an abbreviation, how to properly use commas, how to construct a complete sentence containing a subject and a predicate, and how to use proper subject/verb agreement. Fred could use a few lessons on use of capitals, how to offset a transitional word with a comma, and how to avoid beginning a sentence with a conjunction.

I am not about to argue there are not poor teachers out there. They make my job much more difficult. I once watched a fellow teacher tell her students about the location of the White House while pointing to the state of Washington as opposed to Washington D.C. – oy! However, if you are going to be generally critical of teachers for lack of skills and intelligence, you should at least proof read your own post. :)

As to the topic at hand…

“This created funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.” I have seen this disparity first hand, and it is, in part, one of the reasons so many schools in lower SES areas are failing. I have taught in schools where we did not have enough books for each child to use one, and our science texts were so outdated that they spoke of the “intentions” of the United Stated to eventually send men to the moon! Even a child with involved parents, and a strong drive to gain an education, would have trouble getting an adequate education under those circumstances. On the other hand, getting funding for education is becoming very difficult. The overall impression seems to be that the whole system is so horrible, why bother funding it anymore.

Chris Murphy, Atlanta, GA

December 27th, 2010
1:03 pm

Should parents sue the state?? How about the state suing the parents? They’re the ones who go along with the state’s “adequate” philosophy, and the one’s (mainly) responsible for the breakdown of discipline and respect in the classroom (NB: responsible administrators would not put their employees in such situations, but since promotions are based on office and/or electoral politics, we get what we’ve got.).

I would have, for most of my life, agreed with the statement that we need an educated citizenry to run our democracy. I don’t any more: ignorance rules. The “founding fathers” were educated, but the citizenry at the time was not; however, they seem to have made at least as good choices as we have in contemporary times, Indian genocide and slavery notwithstanding.

Angela Palm

December 27th, 2010
1:17 pm

@ScienceTeacher671

You’re right. Oops. Wonder where he got the GA number. What’s happened here is close to the FL numbers.

EdDawg

December 27th, 2010
2:02 pm

@ Dr. Yes … it’s called Plyler vs. Doe … look it up. Schools do not check and will not check immigration statuses.

@ I love teaching … Thanks for representing English teachers, well.

@ Really Amazed … You give an excellent example of the difference between a standards based test like the CRCT & a nationally normed test like the ITBS. Your kids learned well the GA standards thus scoring a 3 on their CRCTs; however, in a nationally normed test (not being taught the test/curriculum expected) they still did well scoring better than 50% of all students taking the test in the country.