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.
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