Governor’s Education Reform Commission proposes McEducation for Georgia youth

mikereynoldsBumper stickers add welcome moments of laughter to our drive time but are generally unreliable descriptions of reality. They disguise and omit too much. Here is an exception — “Think Education Is Expensive? Try Ignorance.” It is true for individuals but also true for communities.

Gov. Nathan Deal believes education for our children is too expensive and if he has his way, we, as well as future generations, will bear the cost for his misguided policy of underfunded public education. The bill will come due as accumulating expense for lost jobs, poor population health, increased crime, and eroded aspirations among Georgians for a better life for their sons and daughters.

To promote his policy, Governor Deal appointed an Education Reform Commission last January to create a new formula to allocate funds across local school districts. However, the governor required the Commission’s proposal to meet a restriction — it must keep funding at the current level.

The governor’s restriction meant the Commission’s work was done before it met. However, it finalized a proposal for a new school funding formula that was presented to the governor. There are three significant problems with the proposed new formula.

First, the dollars are inadequate for the job. The new formula assures Georgia’s budget allocation for education will always lag national and global standards by locking in 14 years of education budget austerity cuts. It shifts increasing costs to local taxpayers. Districts will have the choice of reduced opportunity for youth or increased millage.

It has no provision for determining a realistic cost of educating Georgia’s youth to the 21st century standards already adopted by the state; they are forced to determine a budget without knowing the costs of producing the results desired.

It has no inflation adjustment. As costs rise, the state is not obligated to increase local district budget allocations.

State support for education will decline, and the tax burden will fall on local taxpayers. This will be especially hard on counties without a robust property tax base. Those children will begin life with even less opportunity than they have now.

Where is Georgia currently in school spending?

According to the nonpartisan budget watchdog Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the legislature has underfunded education 14 consecutive years, for a cumulative total of $8.6 billion. Georgia spending per pupil fell from 26th in the nation to 37th between 2003 and 2013. We spend $1,601 less on each student than the national average.

How much less did Rome and Floyd County receive for education during the austerity-cut years? For Floyd, the underfunding totaled $67.7 million between 2003 and 2016. Rome City lost $32.5 million in the same period.

Georgia Budget and Policy Institute calculated the impact of the new proposed formula on the current-year budget for all 180 school districts. Floyd would have $5,004,021 less than if the General Assembly provided the full amount of funding the current formula calls for, including transportation grants to bus students safely to and from school. Rome City would have $1,242,587 less than allocated for the current school year under the same measure.

Budget cuts at this level hollow out school systems, degrade student performance, and increase teacher turnover. They strangle hope and nourish fatalism. It is cumulative damage that cannot be repaired with a one-year infusion of dollars; the corrosion spreads to the local community and economy. Like the proverbial battleship, once we head in the direction of disinvestment in education, the course can only be changed over a long period of time.

If it is passed into law in the upcoming session, Governor Deal’s proposal will degrade public education in Georgia and widen the opportunity gap for the next generation of Georgians.

Michael Reynolds, a Rome resident retired from Georgia Tech, is a graduate of the School of Theology at Boston University. He writes for the website MOVE GEORGIA FORWARD and may be reached at MoveGeorgiaForward@gmail.com.

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