Funding education excellence is a long way off in Georgia and getting farther away

Ernest sent me a link to this Education Week story about weighted student funding. He asked, “What if funding was differentiated based on need and really allowed for the dollars to follow the students?  It seems several school districts are already trying this.”

Georgia does use a weighting system in its funding formula. Under Georgia’s system, weights are reflected  as a percentage of the base. While the “average student” gets an allocation of 1.0, an English learner might get an allocation of 1.2.

But the state has never analyzed its weighting in a framework of academic achievement. Is the extra money allotted for students with special needs sufficient to assure academic success? Are we allotting enough to educate children from poor households to a standard of some sort?

The Governor’s Education Finance Task Force created by Sonny Perdue in 2004 was supposed to develop a cost model that would provide the true price of  “an excellent education.” The task force held more than 75 public meetings and discussions with 105 school systems. Yet, it did not make any recommendations on how much it would cost to educate Georgia students to the standard of excellence sought by Perdue.

The reason was that excellence costs more than anyone in Georgia is willing to spend.

In fact, the successor to the Perdue task force is the new Nathan Deal task force, which accepted from the start that excellence may be an unrealistic goal. The current task force led by lawmakers Fran Millar from the Senate and Brooks Coleman from the House is the sixth such assemblage to take a stab at fixing school funding.

At one of its first meetings last year, the task force heard from outgoing House Budget Office director John Brown, who said, “We are not going to come up with a formula that reaches for excellence. We are not putting an orchestra in every school. We are going to create a formula so that every school system has enough money to get the basic job done.”

But we don’t actually know what it costs to get the basic job done for the average Georgia student, never mind the student who brings special needs to the equation.

In theory, the state funding formula, which was adopted in 1985, sends enough money to communities so that they can — with a small local tax supplement — provide an adequate basic education to students. In reality, the state formula is outdated, grossly underestimating the cost of textbooks, facilities maintenance and student transportation. It doesn’t address technology needs at all. To attract teachers, virtually all systems augment the state wage.

Historically, the state had paid about 60 to 55 percent percent of real costs of education while local communities paid 40 percent. Today, the state is only footing 38 percent of the education tab in Georgia. (It’s important to note that one percentage point represents well over a hundred million dollars.)

According to Ed Week, other districts have embraced more realistic weighted funding formulas, including Boston:

Under Boston’s system, a low-income English-language learner in 6th grade—student A in this example—would generate fewer funding dollars than a 4th grader with autism, or student B.

But reallocating resources through weighted student funding meant that about 45,000 students were in schools that ended up making smaller cuts or even gaining in funding, despite the overall budget shortfall. Other schools in Boston experienced real decreases in funding or saw their budgets remain the same this school year, based on enrollment and the makeup of their student bodies.

In moving to a “weighted student-funding formula,” Boston joins other districts, such as Baltimore, Denver, Rochester, N.Y., and New York City, that believe this method better serves student needs and creates more transparency and fairness in district finances. And in a time of tight budgets, some also say this funding method creates a process where cuts can be managed around an individual school’s needs, instead of coming by decree from the central office.

“The benefit is you have a single way of allocating resources across the district regardless of the type of school you’re in,” said John McDonough, Boston’s chief financial officer. That leads to a significantly more rational way of responding to budget concerns, he said.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

198 comments Add your comment

seabeau

July 25th, 2012
5:43 am

My child attended a very small private school. All of her class mates graduated and aprox 76% of her graduating class attended college and most have graduated. All this at a cost of aprox. one tenth the cost to educate a public school student. Get the Federal government out of our schools! PS.,None of the youth were ever incarcerated and none of the girls got pregnant. Go figure!!!

[...] Funding education excellence is a long way off in Georgia and getting farther awayAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Ernest sent me a link to this Education Week story about weighted student funding. He asked, “What if funding was differentiated based on need and really allowed for the dollars to follow the students? It seems several school districts are already … [...]

Fed Up

July 25th, 2012
6:35 am

Wouldn’t weighting encourage schools to over-label students just to get the money? We have enough “disorders” out there.

DeborahinAthens

July 25th, 2012
6:45 am

Stop dumbing down the curriculum to the lowest common denominator. Set high standards, keep the standards, teach, stop baby sitting. If a kid doesn’t want to learn, kick them out. At some point this BS has to stop! No one can discipline a child any more. No one can fail a child any more. This is garbage. Reward success, and stop rewarding mediocrity, otherwise we are doomed. Make it cool to be smart and not-cool to be an idiot. Stop this romance with football and basketball. Start a romance with science and math. It can be done. My sister-in-law teaches math in a low income school. She has a robot building club that has 15-20 kids that are JAZZED about the competition with other clubs….it can be done, but we, as a culture have to stop giving awards to the mediocre. In other words, it’s not the money.

Fred in DeKalb

July 25th, 2012
7:12 am

Would this mean that schools located in more affluent areas and those with lower special needs populations would receive less money for operations? Could this be a start of a voucher program? I have a lot of questions about this.

South Georgia Retired Educator

July 25th, 2012
7:17 am

I worked as a public school business official for 24 years and retired in 2002. When I think back on all the state efforts to fund public education and the last one, QBE, in particular, it always came down to the total dollars the legislator and Governor were willing to allocate, regardless of the proven needs of students in all categories throughout the state. QBE has turned out to be a convoluted and failed attempt to send adequate money where student needs have been identified. Rather than looking at the total needs and funding them, based on student counts by category, it has always turned out to be a top-down allocation, with kids always coming up short. In the present environment in Atlanta, this won’t change. When I contact legislators these days about sending adequate money based on the QBE law, they simply don’t reply. It’s very sad.

bootney farnsworth

July 25th, 2012
7:19 am

for someone who yaps so much about the evils of education, Fran doesn’t seem to actually do much to push the ball forward.

South Georgia Retired Educator

July 25th, 2012
7:23 am

A correction to my previous post: Should be “legislature and governor”

bootney farnsworth

July 25th, 2012
7:24 am

I cringe every time someone brings up how they do it up north or out west. one of the major problems we have here is wannabe yankee idiots.

the legislature is the same group of people who hired Steve Portch and actually bought his line quarter to semester conversion could occur and actually save the state money. and why we now have stupid names like State University @ or State College and University

BOB FROM ACCOUNT TEMPS

July 25th, 2012
7:35 am

why does it cost more to educate a poor kid than a rich kid?

Jeff

July 25th, 2012
7:41 am

If funding was the problem, we would be at the top of the heap in international test scoring comparisons.

Show me where all the lottery money has been spent, and where the ORIGINAL education budget has gone (that the lottery was supposed to supplement, not replace) and then we’ll talk about funds for education.

long time educator

July 25th, 2012
7:43 am

Don’t forget to include Title I federal funds that follow the free and reduced students. These are large sums of money awarded to districts and sometimes individual schools because of the number of poor students to create a more level playing field. In most cases, these funds could be used to benefit more classrooms and less as a jobs program for district level supervisors. AJC could look into how these monies are spent; it is public record.

teacher&mom

July 25th, 2012
7:47 am

“Today, the state is only footing 38 percent of the education tab in Georgia.”

Shameful.

That quote deserves to be on broadcasted across the state. A billboard at every major interstate entering GA should have that quote posted for all to see.

We need more honest appraisals like this one. I would love to hear Gov. Deal, Jan Jones, Chip Rogers, Fran Millar, and others take on this article.

Maureen, you have the power to hold their feet to the fire on educational spending. Don’t let them pull away with rhetoric and half truths.

Laurie

July 25th, 2012
7:49 am

We can no longer afford to fund special needs and “English as a 2nd language” students. There is no money left over to address the needs of the young people who will be expected in their adult lives to support the kids who are now getting the lion’s share of our resources.

teacher&mom

July 25th, 2012
7:53 am

@Jeff: Stop with the rhetoric. We’ve not “thrown money” at GA students for over 8 years.

HoneyFern School

July 25th, 2012
7:53 am

Cut the fat. Many times it is less about what we spend than about how we spend it. Hint: we have too many administrators.

teacher&mom

July 25th, 2012
7:57 am

@HoneyFern: That may be true for metro districts, but it isn’t true for many rural districts.

We need to stop viewing education in GA through the “metro Atlanta” lens.

crankee-yankee

July 25th, 2012
8:04 am

bootney farnsworth
July 25th, 2012
7:24 am

“One of the major problems we have here is” an unwillingness, for whatever reason, to look at what is working, or not working in other locales. We all can learn from the mistakes and successes of others but there seems to be a common thread when it comes to political decision-making in this state. From transportation issues to education, if a “yankee” did it, it is not worth studying nor implementing.

NYC moves TEN TIMES the population during rush hours but how they do it, mass transit, road construction that utilizes over/under passes instead of cheaper traffic lights, etc. are not politically savory.

In education, the same thing is happening. Local pundits decry our education system compared to other states’ results (I won’t get into the way the comparisons are being made, that’s another problem) but then refuse to look at what is working in those states.

Do you see a disconnect?

Male Teacher

July 25th, 2012
8:10 am

Laurie………My son is in special ed for a speech delay and your type of thinking(if you want to call it that) is why I’m a former Republican. Chip Rogers and his gang want to trash my son.Chip needs to learn how to manage his own finances and get out of office.

Trim the Middle

July 25th, 2012
8:20 am

Isnt it a fact that the money isnt reaching the classroom most of the time anyway. The bloated warthog that is the Dekalb school system is probably one of the poster children for why the state doesnt want to dole out funds. Too many ppl with way-too high salaries on North Decatur Road.

Mary Elizabeth

July 25th, 2012
8:27 am

@Fred in DeKalb, 7:12 am

“Could this be a start of a voucher program?”
===============================================================

Thank you for posing this vital, astute question for the public to ponder, Fred.

I would urge the public to ponder that question quite seriously, and to pay very close attention to how this process will unfold in the coming months. Also, I would urge the public to watch closely the positions that Georgia’s Senate and House Education Committees will take, in regard to this undertaking of establishing the cost for an education for each pupil in Georgia.

Be aware that state Sen. Fran Millar (mentioned above) is Chair of the Senate Education Committee and that state Rep. Brooks Coleman (also mentioned above), who was a co-sponsor of HR 1162 – the bill which established Georgia’s amendment to the Constitution being voted on in November which would allow the state to assign charter schools over local jurisdiction – is Chair of the House Education Committee. (State Sen. Chip Rogers, a strong proponent for vouchers in Georgia, sponsored the equivalent of HR 1162 in the Senate.)

===================================================

Also, the public should question, in depth, WHY the following is happening in Georgia:

“Historically, the state had paid about 60 to 55 percent percent of real costs of education while local communities paid 40 percent. Today, the state is only footing 38 percent of the education tab in Georgia. (It’s important to note that one percentage point represents well over a hundred million dollars.)”

Eyes Rolling

July 25th, 2012
8:28 am

Here we go again… the mantra of the Educrats: “SPEND MORE MONEY!”

We already spend more money on education than anybody else in the world. The problem isn’t that we don’t spend enough, the problem is that what we do spend is WASTED by a massive government+government employee union bureaucracy that’s interested in featherbedding for itself as opposed to actually doing what it’s begin paid for.

skipper

July 25th, 2012
8:31 am

Cut the fat! We have “assistants to the assistant”, forced seminars (costly) on everything from diversity (buzzword for lets pay for more feel-good mess) to proper recation to disruptive students. Give the classrooms back to the teachers, get rid of the bad ones and put discipline back into the classroom. Teachers and systems would get sued blind now, but our old coach had a way of giving the occasional “love-tap” and amazingly discipline was restored. If not, get rid of the troublemakers. Look at any school budget, and see all the legal jargon…….

Shirley

July 25th, 2012
8:44 am

We’re funding more and more of education at the local level – and now they’re asking us to vote for “just one cent” so that we can take up the slack from the state on transportation spending? Who thinks that’s where it will end up?

carlosgvv

July 25th, 2012
8:45 am

“excellence costs more than anyone in Georgia is willing to spend”

That’s true. Our politicians would much rather spend our tax dollars on their pet pork projects and improvements to their personal estates.

retired teacher now

July 25th, 2012
8:49 am

seabeau….how many kids in your child’s small private school didn’t speak english, had grandparents raising them because dad disappeared and mom is a drug addict, lived in temporary homes (i.e homeless shelters), had families living below the poverty level, had parents that hung up the phone the minute the teacher announced who she/he was, never showed for parent conferences, had serious discipline problems, couldn’t read, moved 2-3 times every year, came to school just to deal their drugs or because the probation officer said jail or school, had serious handicaps, etc.

I think probably none….use some common sense please. There’s no way around it…kids with these kinds of problem do not get educated on the cheap-cheap. Kids who’s parents do half the work of school are a piece of cake (well comparatively speaking) to educate.

Clarence

July 25th, 2012
8:56 am

As Maureen points out, we already have a weighted formula, and as teacher salaries account for the vast majority of costs associated with education, the formula isn’t as outdated as one might think. In fact, I think if you asked local school districts – in a room of truth – if they’d rather have the current formula fully funded, or have the current group of elected officials rewrite a new formula, they’d say thanks very much, we’ll take our QBE. I’m not sure why the weighted formula is mentioned in the post, as it seems to be just a chance to rehash the 38% story (which is a flawed number as it was taken at the height of federal stimulus).

Mikey D.

July 25th, 2012
9:12 am

Fran Millar has already publicly stated his education funding proposals — Cut teacher pay and raise local millage rates.
So nice to have such bold, innovative “leadership” here in Georgia, huh?

@Jeff- The lottery provided funding for preK, the HOPE scholarship, and certain technology-related expenses. It has NEVER been used to fund any aspect of the k12 budget. Please get your facts straight before posting your next angry rant.

Hiram Abiff

July 25th, 2012
9:31 am

Laurie earth is now a dumber place to live because of that statement…..furthermore teachers are fed up taking the blame for the ills of the profession….politicians are cutting their pay yet raising their responsibilities,yet have minimal input on policy

Once Again

July 25th, 2012
9:33 am

Every study done shows that there is no correllation between funding and educational quality. Washington DC spends more money than any school district in the nation and they have the worst performance. The problems are stuctural, and more money will just mean more failed structure. The govenrment monopoly must end and the socialistic taxpayer funding mechanism must end as well. There will never be any accountability or true service to the customer until the customer is paying and they can take their money and walk when they have been failed by the educational establishment. It is this relationship that makes everything else in the private sector work so well.

Mikey D.

July 25th, 2012
9:36 am

Georgia’s new education mantra, as endorsed by our elected leaders: “We’ll give you the basics, but if you want excellence you’ll have to go elsewhere.”

larry

July 25th, 2012
9:39 am

Maybe if we quit giving our tax money away to corporations for the promise of jobs and put it back into education , we might be able to fully fund QBE instead of less than 38% of it.

Road Scholar

July 25th, 2012
9:40 am

Many points above are good especially the increase in discipline and setting higher acceptable standards. If a kid is a discipline problem, set up boot camps for them to attend. Setting a mean, lean schedule w/o distractions will focus them. Parents would not have a say unless they get involved…if you’re going to be an absentee parent then…. The higher standards need to spell out responsibilities and expectations. The goal of going to college should be non negotiable. Only which college is negotiable. By college, I also include trade and technical schools.

Parent Teacher

July 25th, 2012
9:40 am

Pay for the education when they are young or pay for the incarceration when they are grown. We spend three times as much on prisons as we do on education.

If we are truly to fix the problem we need a birth to 25 policy that educates parents and children. We can’t continue to try and fix students when they begin school after they have spent 5 years with no support. Some of the most developmental years are spent at home before school, 0-5 years old. We can’t ignore the true problems that plague the chronic underperfomers. It is like climbing everast with sandles and a rope in the dead of winter.

For those that don’t truly understand what is happening with the money that is allocated you need to do a little reading and figure it out. The state has cut over 2.2 billion dollars from the budget and local systems can’t make up that kind of difference even by half. The system that I am in has a limited BOE and spends 85% on employee salaries. The other 15% goes to buildings, lights, other bills and to fund the BOE operations. I agree Dekalb and Fulton are wasteful but the rest of the state has been cut to the bone. As for the race to the top funds, out of 400 million dollars the state kept halft and the rest was divide. This money is being spent to implement a new evaluation system and to administer the funds. IT IS NOT BEING SPENT AT THE SCHOOL LEVEL AND DIRECTLY IMPACTING STUDENTS. IT IS CREATING ANOTHER LAYER OF PAPERWORK AND OVER BURDEND TEACHERS AND AMINISTRATORS. If our republican controled house of representatives were true conservative republicans they would have told the feds to keep the money as it is a waste.

Road Scholar

July 25th, 2012
9:42 am

Finally, let the politicians stop giving education lip service. Set up a system for all..no vouchers or state paid escape from public schools. If a person wants a private school, let them pay for it themselves. Correct the problems.

Google "NEA" and "donations"

July 25th, 2012
9:51 am

For the sizable cabal on this blog assigned teacher union talking points to endlessly repeat—taxpayers can never pay enough, and the funding pie can never be lopsided enough in favor of Special Educ and other areas requiring staffing bloat.

And any talk of accountability, innovation, education reform or parental choice can never be reviled or second-guessed enough.

Whirled Peas

July 25th, 2012
10:04 am

It is time for vouchers. Let the people decide which schools to send their kids to. Good schools will thrive and bad schools will wither and fold. Competition would do wonders in cleaning up the mess our politicians have created with the schools in this state. The educrats will fight vouchers tooth and nail because the the last thing they want is to give power to the people.

Fran Millar

July 25th, 2012
10:08 am

Maureen, I suggest you wait until we are done our work before making a judgement. Most superintendents do not have a problem with our basic formula. It needs to be revised to meet current and future needs (like technology) and applied with consistency for budget purposes. I look forward to your evaluation when we are finished.

yuzeyurbrane

July 25th, 2012
10:08 am

Fran Millar is heading the education funding task force! Talk about a wolf in the henhouse. I can already guess his recommendations. Quality public education will not occur in Georgia and Georgia will continue its rapid march to 50th in virtually every category.

Mary Elizabeth

July 25th, 2012
10:15 am

One of the main purposes of state government is to provide for the education of its citizens. “You get what you pay for” in most areas, and that is certainly true in education. The purpose of education is not profit.

It is my opinion that many of Georgia’s educational policies, as determined in large part through Georgia’s Legislature, are being influenced by national forces, outside of Georgia. However, this situation can change, in the future, through the public’s growing awareness of this and through their voting power.

Please read the link below, in full, to understand part of the reason that I hold the opinion that I do, in this regard. Thank you.

http://alecexposed.org/w/images/5/57/2D4-Next_Generation_Charter_Schools_Act_Exposed.pdf

Old timer

July 25th, 2012
10:15 am

Excellence starts with parents.

Mary Elizabeth

July 25th, 2012
10:19 am

The link I provided at 10:15 am, above, was lifted from the following link, entitled, “How ALEC is quietly influencing educational reform”:

http://mediamatters.org/print/research/2012/05/09/how-alec-is-quietly-influencing-education-refor/184156

Mikey D.

July 25th, 2012
10:19 am

@Senator Millar:
When will your work be “done”? Do you dispute the reports that the state is now funding only 38% of the education budget? Wouldn’t you agree that this represents a failure at the state level?
I respect that you’re brave enough to come here and post, but how about some real answers to tough questions, rather than simple talking points about how this is all a work in progress. You and your colleagues at the capitol have failed the children of this state for more than a decade. You have demanded accountability from those of us on the front lines of education. How about a little accountability for you and our other legislators?

Mary Elizabeth

July 25th, 2012
10:20 am

Correction: Link entitled: “How ALEC is quietly influencing educational reform in Georgia.”

crankee-yankee

July 25th, 2012
10:21 am

Once Again
July 25th, 2012
9:33 am

“…private sector works so well.”

Like the recession we are drowning in, right, got it. Worked perfectly! Lehman Bros’, et al greed has pulled us all down. I did not invest with them but am affected by them.

Solutions

July 25th, 2012
10:22 am

You want to spend more on education, I want to spend less, so we have stalemate. Soon I will be exempt from paying the school portion of my property tax, so I suspect my interest in this matter will end. My only observation is this: Public education is more about full employment for school teachers than it is about educating the young. I suggest a 10% across the board pay cut for all school employees in DeKalb county, to balance the budget.

catlady

July 25th, 2012
10:28 am

All I am sure of is that if they go to a weighted formula, the “average kid” weight will be far, far les than it is now. In fact, across the board, the amount allotted to public education by the legislature will be much lower than it is now. It will “magically” be whatever balances the budget–whatever is left over after the sweet deals, special projects, and other such that benefits the powerful.

You see, folks, we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The legislators have picked up on the cry for “local control” and they have continued to sell it and fund it that way. You want local control? they say. Then YOU fund your local schools!

When I started teaching in 1973, we didn’t have computers or even air conditioners. We had a big old room and I was given the responsibility to teach the students, discipline the students, collaborate with the parents, and make it work. Now, I didn’t teach in an affluent area. In fact, I only had one child who had both parents graduate from high school! The average attainment for my children’s parents was 8th grade for dads and 10th grade for moms. All but one child qualified for free lunch. Many of my students had no indoor bathroom, and most had never been outside the county. However, my principal and my superintendent supported my efforts. My students’ parents supported my efforts. My children had ALL been parented. Problems were handled by me and the parents–no adversarial conditions! My pay? $6900!

What was different? Everything.

Maureen Downey

July 25th, 2012
10:49 am

@Sen. Millar, I believe your commission is well intended as were all the others. The question is whether Georgia has the will to fund education to the level necessary to raise its citizens to the attainment level essential to compete. For all the folks who keep saying that money does not matter, explain to me then why the best private schools in Georgia — and the nation — charge $20,000 a year in tuition and that is for students who come with every advantage and few serious learning disabilities.
A reminder to posters who are going to leap up now and say that APS spends $14,000 per pupil — that average includes children with extreme special needs. (Such challenging students would not find spots at many private schools except those specializing in children with disabilities.)
Georgia funding on the straight-ahead kid with no special needs has barely budged and yet we are now asking that those kids reach levels of proficiency never before expected. We can’t do it without some investment in teacher training and quality and curriculum.
Maureen

Mary Elizabeth

July 25th, 2012
10:50 am

Data from the link I provided at 10:19 am:
———————————————————————————–
Public Non-Charter Students Score Higher Than Charter Students On Average. From average scale scores compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics:

2009 public school national average scale scores

Charter

Non-charter
———————————————————————

Mathematics, grade 4

231 (Charter)

239 (Non-charter)
———————————————————————

Reading, grade 8 (Error, I believe; this should have been typed “grade 4.”)

212 (Charter)

220 (Non-charter)
———————————————————————————-

Mathematics, grade 8

275 (Charter)

282 (Non-charter)
———————————————————————–

Reading, grade 8

257 (Charter)

262 (Non-charter)

[National Center for Education Statistics, accessed 10/25/11; screenshots of data here]

—————————————————————————–

Jane W.

July 25th, 2012
10:52 am

@Fran Millar:

With all due respect, when it comes to traditional public schools our Maureen has never met an anti-reform argument she didn’t like. At least not in memory.

And her newspaper isn’t coy about its Democrat Party alliance.

So why further distract yourself from finding solutions to Georgia’s education problems? Look to nearby Louisiana for innovations—and the public-spirited resolve to carry them out.