Education finance expert: “State is systematically starving our schools.”

Joseph Martin digs deep into the budget minutiae of education spending and is considered a national expert on school financing.

In fact, the Republican-led education finance committee created by Gov. Nathan Deal to rewrite Georgia’s school funding formula has called upon Martin to share his expertise. Martin was asked to advise the committee on how best to fund schools even though he is a Democrat who ran against Republican John Barge for the state school superintendent’s post. (Barge won.)

Martin just released his assessment of this year’s k-12 budget and he’s not happy. Nor does Martin think the public will be if it looks beyond Gov. Deal’s reassurances that he is protecting education this year.

From Martin:

The recommended state budget for k-12 education in FY 2013 was released with the announcement that it “includes no reductions to QBE, Equalization Grants, State Schools, or other enrollment driven programs.” This statement would be true if the word “further” was inserted before the word “reductions,” but without any clarification, it creates an impression that is very misleading.

The general public isn’t being told what is really happening to our schools. No one wants to hear about the declining support for education in Georgia. It seems like an unceasing complaint, but somehow – for the overall prosperity of our state – the consequences have to be explained and addressed.

It would be far more accurate to say that a formula which has not been updated for years will still be cut by more than $1 billion. The combined effect of an unrealistic formula and huge austerity reductions comes to about $30,000 a year for a typical class in Georgia. Moreover, the equalization grants, which are intended to help the least wealthy systems, will be cut by nearly half from what is intended by the current law.

Our schools have been squeezed for so long that the lack of a “further” reduction is welcome news, but it obscures the depth of the ongoing problem, which will actually become worse because there is no adjustment for inflation. The reduction in school days, the additional furlough days, the increases in class sizes, and the cuts in programs will continue unabated, especially since local systems can no longer rely on rising property taxes to cover deficits in state funding. Meanwhile, the state pay scale for teachers will remain the same for the fifth year.

Regardless of the spin, the real conclusion is inescapable. The state is systematically starving our schools – and jeopardizing our future – under the pretense that it doesn’t have the needed funds, while the wave of tax exemptions and cuts never ceases. It is essential to have capable teachers, effective leaders, active parents, and sound policies, but these elements do not replace the need for adequate resources in meeting the challenges we face in education.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

112 comments Add your comment


January 17th, 2012
12:06 pm

Apparently Deal doesn’t believe in education. Perhaps it’s a personal thing. Education seems to have failed him.

Ron F.

January 17th, 2012
12:08 pm

“Meanwhile, the state pay scale for teachers will remain the same for the fifth year”

You know, considering the economy right now, I wouldn’t mind that fact so much if my insurance premiums hadn’t basically doubled in that same time period and if I hadn’t had to scrape and survive 17 furlough days in the past two school years. When “adjusted for inflation”, my income has gone down pretty steadily for the past several years. Now if my student loan payments would adjust accordingly…

When I read the State of the State speech, it wasn’t what was said, but what wasn’t said that mattered. Deal shellacked the audience with what sounded like a commitment to stabilize and possibly improve education funding. Yep, he’s giving us the Raw Deal…or is that the Real Deal?


January 17th, 2012
12:11 pm

After reading I would think the problems with Georgia education would have been solved years ago with the author so involved, informed and influential. What happened? I am not hearing any budget ideas being presented or how to bring jobs to our state that will help bring more dollars to our schools. The average teacher wage of @ $50,000 a year brings cries of poverty from our educators. I don’t think they are ready to pay more to support their profession? This article has a Sour Grape ring to it.

I only have one question,,,,,? Where is the money going to come from? Who is feeling generous?


January 17th, 2012
12:18 pm

Cry us a river, Ron F. Trying putting more money into actually educating children rather than paying administrative positions and you might receive sympathy. If you really want to know how much is going to non teaching positions you can research the GA Dept of Audits Salary & Travel report by school system (city & county) for some rather sickening reading.

Beverly Fraud

January 17th, 2012
12:19 pm

Education finance expert: “State is systematically starving our schools.”

Of course it is! But…how can the school systems complain when they SYSTEMICALLY allow waste, fraud, and corruption to run RAMPANT throughout their own budgets?

It’s kind of like a guy walking into a bank, wearing a ski mask, a note in one hand and his other hand concealed inside his jacket complaining, “Man, I can’t even walk into a bank without being harassed by security,” and expecting someone to feel for him.


January 17th, 2012
12:19 pm

Well, maybe we could sell Georgia’s Fishing Museum.

The Truth

January 17th, 2012
12:22 pm

The GOP is doing everything it can to discredit public education in an effort to shift $$$ to private schools and largely reintroduce segregation. I am white and a private high school grad.

Ron Burgundy

January 17th, 2012
12:30 pm

The Truth = textbook definition of libtard.

Rural Education

January 17th, 2012
12:32 pm

The average teacher salary is not anywhere near $50,000. It is not accurate to include administrators or central office personnel since they don’t actually teach.

The Phantom

January 17th, 2012
12:33 pm

Joseph Martin has apparently never received his annual tax bill from COA/Fulton County, because if he did he would be asking “What happens to all the money?!”


January 17th, 2012
12:34 pm

This is an interesting quote: “the equalization grants, which are intended to help the least wealthy systems”

What, you mean some of that money might actually be going to a more wealthy county and/or be taken away from less wealthy counties? Imagine that.


January 17th, 2012
12:35 pm

Putting money in public schools is flushing money down the toilet.

Maureen Downey

January 17th, 2012
12:39 pm

@Rural, GSU did a study five or six years ago of average teacher-only salaries in Georgia. At that point, the average teacher salary was $47,000.


January 17th, 2012
12:43 pm

The truth is simple. It is expensive to educate children. It costs money to hire and retain good teachers. It costs money to operate school facilities. It costs money to run buses. It costs money to improve the quality of instruction in our classroom. The governor’s and legislature’ lack of commitment to our state’s children is going to come at a huge cost.

Some people use this forum to expound on the “fraud” and “poor management” within “many” school systems, but the truth is this is occurring in only two or three places. Most of the 180 districts in Georgia are honorable in their use of funds to educate children and they are being robbed of the opportunities to provide needed services for students due to the underfunding of our public schools.

Mary Elizabeth

January 17th, 2012
12:43 pm

In addition to the above seemingly stealthy plans to “starve the beast” of public education in Georgia, Republicans legislators appear to be trying to keep public school teachers who teach in public charter schools from becoming part of the Teacher Retirement System for Georgia’s public school teachers.

Republican House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones is sponsoring House Bill 664 which states, in part: “A BILL. . .to provide that the Georgia Charter Schools Commission may elect to exclude all teachers in a commission charter school from membership in the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia.”

I have read in the AJC that the Fulton County School System is considering making all of the Fulton County schools charter schools. If that happens – and if public school teachers in public charter schools are not allowed legally to participate in the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia -Republican legislators will have been successful in removing one of the main advantages of being a public school teacher. Teachers will begin to focus as much on securing their own financial futures as they will focus on the students they teach. When that happens, public charter schools in Georgia will be on the way to becoming private charter schools. When I began my teaching career in the early 1970s in the DeKalb County School System, my contract with the state of Georgia actually stated “you place your focus on students’ needs, and we, the Teacher Retirement System, will place our focus on securing your financial future (through investment of funds contributed by teachers to the TRS of Georgia).”

Moreover, Republican legislators will have, further, demoralized public school teachers if HB 664 is made into law, and these legislators will have created a climate in which the most successful college students, who may have wished to choose teaching for their careers, will choose other professions.

When Georgia’s teachers are not of the highest quality, students, as well as the state of Georgia, will suffer the consequences.

Crying a river ...from Good Mom

January 17th, 2012
12:50 pm

“Cry us a river, Ron F. Trying putting more money into actually educating children rather than paying administrative positions and you might receive sympathy.”

Very true.

I hate the way we refer to how much we spend on education by saying APS spends x dollars per student per year. That is just a da*n lie. What we really need to do is compare how much money we spend per administrator per year. Add their salaries, bonuses, perks, their secretarial staff, their office costs and publish THAT figure….THEN we determine how much money we actually spend per student.

THAT is a figure the AJC reporters should constantly go after and publish. We need good journalists to be the watchdogs of government and the APS school distict needs a few hundred pit bull reporter watch dogs to keep it in honest.


January 17th, 2012
12:53 pm

The goal of the State is a large system of charter schools, fully supported by Christian conservatives, which teach the following:

1. The Earth is 6000 years old.
2. The Earth is the center of the universe
3. The Christian God is a proven fact
4. The Bible is the proven word of God
5. Genesis accurately explains how the Earth and people were created
6. Global warming is a liberal myth
7. Eveolution is an aethistic idea designed to discredit Christianity

Naturally, this will cause our students to fall further and further behind students from other countries. Naturally, fundamentalist parents won’t give a fig about this since heaven is their home.

Mary Elizabeth ...from Good Mom

January 17th, 2012
12:54 pm

ME says “When Georgia’s teachers are not of the highest quality, students, as well as the state of Georgia, will suffer the consequences.”

Very well said, Mary. The quality (and I would add integrity) of the teachers matter. If you believe many teachers on this blog, the quality of the teacher does not matter at all and education is completely dependent on the parents.

To TOny ...from Good Mom

January 17th, 2012
12:57 pm

Tony, I would truly like to believe what you say and I quote “Most of the 180 districts in Georgia are honorable in their use of funds to educate children and they are being robbed of the opportunities to provide needed services for students due to the underfunding of our public schools.”

…but how do you know, Tony? How do you know that corruption is in only two or three places? This is a respectful question, not a rude challenge.

Baba ganusch

January 17th, 2012
12:58 pm

Of course Mr. Martin’s summary also doesn’t tell the full tale either, just as he is accusing the Governor of doing. It all seems accurate but he left out the simple fact that cuts, reductions, reduced workforce, no raises, etc. have been considerably worse in almost all other areas (Agencies) funded by the state. So while education funding may have taken an 8% decline other agencies like the Department of Natural Resources (to name one) has been cut about %45. This fact argues against any systemmatic and purposeful “starvation” of education.

Big Brother

January 17th, 2012
1:09 pm

Not to worry. E-SPLOST will take care of everything. ;)

FCS Teacher

January 17th, 2012
1:10 pm


Do you have any more information about, and or explaining the implications of House Bill 664 which Mary Elizabeth mentions?


January 17th, 2012
1:13 pm

@Tony – not sure where you live, but here in Gwinnett we use Education dollars to fund shady land deals for connected politocos to the tune of several million. Our Emperor Wilbanks also built a multi-million palace for himself with taxpayer funds (and also another shady deal).

We also have High Schools with multiple principals – all with salaries in excess of $100k.


January 17th, 2012
1:14 pm

@ Mary Elizabeth. I am a member of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS), and don’t understand how the Georgia Charter Schools Commission could elect to do this in the first place. I would think that it would be TRS that would have to change its membership rules.

For at the present time, the “Member’s Guide” for TRS states that “all [teachers] who are employed…in the state’s public school systems … are REQUIRED to be members of TRS as a condition of employment.” Charter schools are public, not private, schools.

Hillbilly D

January 17th, 2012
1:15 pm

All my life, there has been a call for more money to be spent on the schools and along the way, the money spent on schools has increased and the results are the same, if not worse. Maybe we should be looking at how the money is being spent, before we spend more. Let’s put the money in the classroom rather than administration and see what effect that has.


January 17th, 2012
1:28 pm

This is a wonderfully in formative column. I like the way the comments are left on giving all the opportunity to read them. Why give feed back to the story when they are summarily removed and something else is thrown out there for the readers. Education should be shared by all.


January 17th, 2012
1:36 pm

I keep saying that educations problems are related to society’s problems. Fix them, you fix public education. Money wont solve the problems we are dealing with!!

David in Mass

January 17th, 2012
1:38 pm

I grew up in the south and lived in Atlanta for 20 years, until my older son was in the 6th grade. I moved my family from Atlanta to Massachusetts several years ago largely because of the “quality” of the public schools down there. The old saying is, “you get what you pay for”, and it is as true of school systems as it is of anything else. My older son had an incredible amount of ‘catching up’ to do when we got up here because of the gaps in his Atlanta (Dekalb County) education. I don’t blame the teachers for this, it was and always is the system for which they work.

My only regret in moving up here to “Taxachusetts/Peoples Republic of Massachusetts” as some on the Right call it, is that we did not leave sooner. Up here, my sons have been challenged to excel (in a free, PUBLIC school system) and have thrived. My Type 1 diabetic wife would have had healthcare even if I lost my job, even before “Obamacare” made that the law of the land. Down there, it seemed to us (and apparently still is so) that you only are entitled to a quality education if you can fund it privately, which, having spent 40+ years in the south, I am absolutely certain is a White/Black issue. From my perspective, I think The Truth is speaking the absolute, naked truth. And calling him a name Mr. Burgundy (Will Farrell would strongly disagree with you, by the way), does not make him wrong.

Some day, the “conservative” whites who dominate the power structures in Georgia may decide to stop fighting the Civil War, that African-Americans do indeed deserve fair opportunities in education, healthcare and to have a decent life as citizens of this country. But, that day sure seems a long way off right now.


January 17th, 2012
1:44 pm

@ Prof I think Charter Schools can hire thier teachers at will and fire them at will. Depending on the charter of the Charter school teachers can be public school employees or they don’t have to be. Take a look at Kipps

[...] not replace the need for adequate resources in meeting the challenges we face in education.”(more)    Comments (0) Go to main news [...]

Mary Elizabeth

January 17th, 2012
1:53 pm

prof@1:14 p.m.

First, let me thank you for your service to the retired public school teachers of Georgia, as well as for posting the valuable information, which you have taken the time to share.

A key phrase in your post which causes concern is, “For the present time. . .” The link to HB 664, which I posted at 12:43 p.m., indicates that some legislators, evidently, believe that they have the power to change that status quo.

I recognize that charter schools are public schools. I hope that that fact is not finessed to be factual in name only, in the coming months and years.


January 17th, 2012
1:56 pm

There are lots of places we could save money in public education. One that never gets mentioned – lets stop bussing kids who live only a few blocks from the school. It’s ridiculous that these kids can’t walk to school – and don’t tell me it’s dangerous. Crime stats are lower now than 30 years ago. It sure would help with the obesity problem as well.

Rural Education

January 17th, 2012
1:56 pm

@Maureen: Of course that is just about the time Sonny started to gut the system so I would think salaries have probably gone down since that study.

Oh My!!

January 17th, 2012
2:03 pm

the truth (12:22) is on to something. they are proponents of school vouchers. and let’s keep in mind that most schools are considered “good” schools until the black/white ratio gets out of line for white acceptance. you all know it’s true.


January 17th, 2012
2:03 pm

You must look past the total budget and examine how much is spent per pupil to see the extent of the decreases in spending. Ex: Ga supports in-state students at USG institutions at a per pupil rate (in real dollars) less than $5100, back to 1995 levels of support. Even the AJC believes universities have escaped cuts as they only look at total $$$, not $ per cap…


January 17th, 2012
2:05 pm

School is a federal/state mandate so it is doomed to fail. Make education voluntary and put it in the private sector.


January 17th, 2012
2:14 pm

@ ATLNative, 1:44 pm. But all public school employees can be hired and fired at will. The “tenure” which they have only means that they are given due process rights before they can be fired. This is NOT the same as the tenure of higher education. The Kipp Academy school states clearly on its website that it is a public school.

@ Mary Elizabeth. As a member of TRS I think I will direct my question to them, for I simply do not see how this change could be legislatively mandated. I will also forward your blog entry here to friends who are active in charter schools for their children. Thank you very much for alerting us to this danger for our professional colleagues.

Old timer

January 17th, 2012
2:20 pm

Cuts have also put police and fire services under what is considered safe. Police officers drive cars that are not safe, mileage is important in a car driven 24/7. In most communities these public services have not raises….like teachers. Small communities and less affluent areas are having trouble retaining the service of these people. Private employees have not had raises. Many now work 32 hours a week. I know money needs to be spent on education…..but where is it going to come from. I cannot afford any more taxes…..neither can many of my neighbors. I want solutions……

C Jae of EAV

January 17th, 2012
2:33 pm

So much to respond to in this thread, I apologize in advance for the monster post:

@Tony – If you believe that only 3 districts are mis-manging public education budgets across the whole state then your faith far exceeds my own. From what I hear, the antics of the public education establishment down state not better than the worse we observe in the ATL metro in alot of cases.

@The Truth – Anyone who has been watching the legislature closely over the last 3-5 years can see the slow errosion of the foundation of public education in GA through carefully crafted public policy. Sadly Charter Schools & Special Needs students seem to be an often used trojan horse to mask public policy advances toward the aim you articulated.

@Mary Elizabeth – In general I see the move to shift teachers in public charter schools out of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia as a move akin to how pensions have given way to 401K plans in the private sector. In my view strickly a move to deal with the stark economic realities of rising pension costs. Many orgnizations public & private have had to grapple with this one. I don’t know all the details but I know some existing public charters have already made this move.

It would be quite a coup if FCPS becomes a conversion charter system. The existing charter systems I’m aware of are essentially are 1 High School feeder system (ie. Cities of Marietta & Decatur). To convert a system as big as FCPS would be umprecedented in this state and would quickly become a proving ground for any number of public education policy ideas. I shutter to think of the ripple effects.

@Pompano – Ditto you comments. See the vigorous APS support of TAD’s for the last decade among other boondoggles.

@Prof – See my opening comment to @Mary Elizbeth. The practice of shifting teachers in public charter schools out of the TRS of GA is in play today. I can only imagine FCPS has done the projections and maybe angling to stave off economic stress before it happens.

@BT – Your comment was the jewel of this thread. As in the world of Avatar, “I See You” !!

Ron F.

January 17th, 2012
3:03 pm

GFY- I couldn’t agree with you more- education is far, far too top heavy. One good thing to come out of the recession is that many school systems are taking a long, hard look at their administrative costs. Granted the larger systems won’t truly see or accept the numbers, but in my school district we definitely are!


January 17th, 2012
3:08 pm

How much IS enough?

Mary Elizabeth

January 17th, 2012
3:08 pm

@ prof, 2:14 p.m.
“@ Mary Elizabeth. As a member of TRS I think I will direct my question to them, for I simply do not see how this change could be legislatively mandated. I will also forward your blog entry here to friends who are active in charter schools for their children. Thank you very much for alerting us to this danger for our professional colleagues.”

I appreciate your pursuing the ramifications of what HB 664 might have for Georgia’s public charter schools (as well as the ramifications of what that transformational bill might possibly have for public schools, in general, throughout Georgia – into the future.)

I am, also, pleased to read that you will be forwarding my blog entry to others who may be directly affected by this bill.

Thank you for your kind words. It is my pleasure to be able to continue to be of service to public education in Georgia.

Angela Palm

January 17th, 2012
3:12 pm

@Mary Elizabeth and others concerned about HB 664

The bill was dropped at the emd of the last session before the Supreme Court ruling on the Charter Schools Commission Act. Since the ruling, the Commission no longer exists — but there will be an effort to revive it thru a Constitutional amendment. This issue will probably be addressed in any legislation setting the Commission up again.

One Commission school wanted to set up a different retirement plan, and there was disagreement as to whether they could and who could make that decision. This bill was done to provide the General Assembly’s answer to the question.

This would only have applied to Commission charters not to the charters approved by the local board, as Fulton’s are.


January 17th, 2012
3:18 pm

@ Mary Elizabeth. I have just called TRS. The agent had not heard about this bill yet, and was quite interested. He said that the state legislature originally created TRS so that, ultimately, yes, if House Bill 664 is passed by both houses and approved by the governor, then TRS membership rules could be thus changed.

Maureen, I do hope that you devote a future blog topic to this subject, for not only would it affect the charter school teachers but it would have a withering effect on the whole charter school movement. I doubt that charter schools could attract many good teachers if their retirement benefits are thus reduced.

And I quite agree with C Jae of EAV that behind this is the desire to further reduce the state’s pension obligations…here, by carving the savings out of teachers’ backs.


January 17th, 2012
3:27 pm

@ Angela Palm. And I really do doubt that if this House Bill is finally approved, it will only be used for the one Commission school. That may have been the original pretext. But it would run counter to all of my experience with politicians and administrators if it were not applied to all commissioned charter schools, for the reason cited by C Jae of EAV.

Joy in Teaching

January 17th, 2012
3:29 pm

There was an article in a local paper about how, starting next year, the state will be raising the cost of insurance for non certified workers (i.e. bus drivers, lunch room ladies, and parapros) to such an extent next year that there are some employees who will have to PAY the county for the PRIVELEGE OF WORKING THERE and receiving insurance.

The county’s response? It wasn’t fair to these very valuable employees to have to go through this. Most of these are the types of jobs that are very difficult to fill. As a result, ALL county school employees will be furloughed an additional 5 days in order to offset the cost for this.

While I personally appreciate the spirit and the need for this county to take care of their own, it is really REALLY disturbing that they are having to do this because the state can’t be bothered to do the right thing in funding schools.


January 17th, 2012
3:40 pm

This is politically motivated BS. The school doors are open, busses are running, teachers and administrators are teaching and working — the kids are getting their daily indoctrination. On top of that, we just passed an E-SPLOST out here.

Just A Teacher

January 17th, 2012
3:59 pm

I would like to apologize in advance for the defeatist tone in this post. The truth is very simple: Governor Deal, like all politicians, has no interest in educating our children. His interest lies in winning elections. The only reason he would attempt to improve Georgia’s public schools is to win the popular vote. Right now, he sees no reason to do this because he has an excuse. How can anyone blame him for cutbacks in the education budget with the economy in such disarray?

Certainly, the economy is in terrible shape. Few people would argue with that! But, what if, and I’m talking about a really big “if” here, what if the governor’s job security was closely tied to the success of Georgia’s public schools? In other words, what if we actually elected someone who cared about the future of our children?

In class today, I led a discussion with my high school students about their future plans. One student had the audacity to say that planning meant nothing since most of them would be unemployed or under employed after completing their educations even if they went to college. I couldn’t argue with that. I know funding is tight for many areas of government, but are we willing to sacrifice our children in order to balance the books? I hope not!

One last thought, the majority of the students had no concrete plans for the future, so parents get ready for your children to be living in your homes with no discernible income for many years after they finish school.


January 17th, 2012
4:10 pm

Anyone who has worked inside a public school for any length of time knows there is PLENTY of money. The wastefulness in Walton County is astounding. There are so many “teachers” who barely teach at all while grade level classrooms are so packed with students there is no room to move.

Anyone who still believes that school systems like this operate in the best interest of the students is woefully naive.

But again, When it comes to money, there is plenty of it. Could that be the problem?

Angela Palm

January 17th, 2012
4:11 pm

The one school reference was just giving background on the bill not what I think would happen.

I think this is just part of a multi-pronged approach to changing the retirement system.