Voters get to say today whether the state will have the authority to grant operating charters to schools
started by private individuals even when locally elected school boards object. Superintendent John Barge, who lives in Floyd County, has estimated it could cost more than $400 million to implement although supporters of the change say it would be significantly less.
The funding reforms, though, have a price tag of less than $120 million. They came from a 15-month investigation by a commission appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, and he’ll have to pick which to implement and on what timetable.
“The work of the committee is not over,” said Lynn Plunkett, superintendent of the Floyd County school system and a member of the commission. “This is just the beginning and it’s a great start.”
The commission, which included the chairman of the House and Senate budget-writing committees, recommended phasing in the changes to the funding formula written in state law over three years in hopes that the economy will boost state revenues eventually.
‘There were some recommendations about looking at the FTE (Full-time Equivalent) funding per student and how those students are served,” Plunkett said. “This is not a simple process because you just can’t put a price and say this is how much it costs to educate a child. You have so many differing needs of different kids.”
David Johnson, vice chairman of the Floyd County Board of Education, also served on the panel. He said the committee looked at the way they determine what an equivalent student is. “One is the base number and then based on the amount of additional things that have to happen for that student, special ed, advanced prep classes, that adds to the base number,” Johnson said. “They’re looking at going to different weightings for that. This is probably the most complicated part of what this funding commission is going to do and it’s still to be done.”
“These formula enhancements are strategic and support student instruction, both directly and indirectly,” noted the letter to Deal with the proposal. “We believe that each recommendation made by the commission has merit, and we request that you consider funding them.”
The commission’s recommendations range from boosting funding for nurses and counselors to classroom computers and school buses.
“The QBE funding formula goes back to 1987. There have been several commissions put together to address funding over time and nothing ever really came out of any of them,” Johnson said.
Most education advocates applauded the commission’s relatively small funding changes in a $7 billion budget even if it didn’t do more, such as guarantee a specific funding level.
Johnson said most of the funding recommendations for 2013 were budget neutral with the understanding that the state budget would likely be very tight.
“There were several things that were left out of it. For instance, they looked at some of the cost elements but not others. They did not ever promise that the state would participate in the cost of an education. It was always what the state chose to pay,” said Sally Fitzgerald, a lobbyist for the Georgia Parent Teacher Association.
The commission stayed away from the really expensive issues like teacher salaries, which make up 85 percent of education spending. Nor did they address benefits, which are a growing expense, especially for bus drivers and cafeteria workers.
“That doesn’t mean that what they did do is not a good thing,” she said.
Johnson said if the charter amendment passes and is funding through regular public school channels, then it is going to take money away from existing sources. “There is supposedly enabling legislation that addresses it as a separate bucket of money. Where that extra bucket of money comes from I don’t know,” said Johnson.
Deal will have to grapple with those big-ticket items as he drafts his budget recommendations in the coming weeks that he’ll present to the legislature in January. His office has said it’s premature to comment on what his plans may be.
Rome News-Tribune Associated Editor Doug Walker contributed to this report.