Local leaders push for education funding
by Megan Thornton
September 19, 2012 01:32 AM | 2142 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — The chairman and vice chairwoman of the Cherokee County Board of Education are asking state education finance officials to recommend restoring full state funding of local school districts under the Quality Basic Education formula.

The request was made as officials prepare for the last meeting of the entire state committee today before the plan must go to state legislators for consideration during next year’s legislative session.

In a letter dated Thursday, Sept. 13., Chairman Mike Chapman and Vice Chairwoman Janet Read addressed State Rep. Brooks Coleman (R-Duluth) and Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), co-chairmen of the State Education Finance Committee.

“We enthusiastically support efforts of this Commission to restore full funding of the State portion of statutorily-required educational funding to local school districts,” the letter states.

However, Coleman said Tuesday he had not yet received the letter and a representative for Millar said he had not received the letter either.

Coleman said the main priority for the commission this year is to address making an addition to the technology component of the QBE formula, but said the commission likely will not be making any recommendations about the funding formula overall.

“There’s probably not going to be a recommendation about QBE at all,” Coleman said. “We’ll probably just stay with that, but we’ve added the technology component to enhance that. We’re trying to bring QBE into the 21st century.”

Coleman said the state education budget is still “horrible,” but the commission is “not looking at cutting anything.”

“We’re just looking at what it takes to fund education,” Coleman said.

Read said they decided to send the letter to make sure their list of concerns was addressed prior to the commission taking their final vote today, including whether or not the commission would recommend to reduce Quality Basic Education funding, which is the formula used to determine how the state will allocate money to school districts, to reduce the state’s financial responsibility to school districts.

“If the outcome merely establishes a new, lower baseline funding formula that serves only to camouflage the State’s austerity cuts, thereby conveniently and permanently excusing State lawmakers from the responsibility of adequately funding public education, rest assured that local school boards, superintendents, parents and teachers are watching and will not be misled by such tactics or the resulting profound lack of leadership,” the letter states.

“We’ve heard repeatedly from the legislative delegation that the QBE formula is broken,” Read said. “We have said repeatedly that we need the funding to get rid of furlough days and decreased class sizes and all those choices we have to make when there is reduced funding. Our concern is (the commission) would say, ‘This will be the new formula.’”

Read said she believes that is an inadequate solution, as the state government is required by law to provide funds to local districts for education.

“I don’t want to see that (funding) eroded any further than it already is,” Read said. “We just want them to know that we’re watching to see what the outcome is. I would hate to see that eight furlough days becomes new normal. Or having 34 kids in a fourth-grade class.”

She added many critics have told her they feel she and other district officials are only focusing on money.

“We’re getting cut at all the levels,” Read said. “For me, it’s about the kids, but it takes money to educate them.”

Chapman was not available for comment.

House Bill 192, which passed during the 2011 legislative session, established the State Education Finance Study Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of the method of funding schools in Georgia.

The 20-member commission includes appointments by the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House as well as the state school superintendent and chief financial officer from the Department of Education.

Areas the commission is charged with studying include core student funding, funding equity, state/local funding partnership and others, according to the Georgia Department of Education website.

Interim recommendations for the commission to consider were submitted last fall and final recommendations are due Sept. 30. with proposed legislation due Dec. 31.

In the letter, Chapman and Read reference the $144 million the Cherokee County School District has had to endure in state budget cuts over the last 10 years and the impact the cuts have had on educational programming, services and operations.

Chapman and Read go on to say the state has only given the local school district 17 percent of its needed capital outlay funds over the past 15 years. They also request the commission members consider the “multi-year, sharp decline” in Cherokee County property tax digest levels and the continued upswing in district enrollment when deciding their final recommendations.

They go on to claim that keeping QBE funding levels at the reduced rate, if implemented by the General Assembly, will “sentence public school students and teachers across Georgia to fewer school days… due to continued furlough days and even larger classes than the presently inflated sizes.”

The letter only mentions the upcoming statewide referendum on charter schools once, saying legislators who pushed for the constitutional amendment to be included on the Nov. 6 ballot “promised that no dollars would be taken from the QBE to fund state-approved charter schools.”

“It will not be acceptable to ignore that commitment or to establish a new funding formula for K-12 public education built on a baseline that reflects significantly decreased per-pupil spending, and then to publicly proclaim that local districts are being fully funded by the state,” the letter states.

If approved by voters, House Resolution 1162 would call for an appointed board to create and fund charter schools with state tax dollars over the objections of local school boards. Proponents of the measure have suggested school district officials often oppose competition brought by charter schools and a state-level commission would allow for more charter schools to be approved and regulated.

Read also took issue with Gov. Nathan Deal’s recent $19.4 million in federal Race To The Top funding grants to develop nine new programs focusing on education reform, including STEM and charter school initiatives.

“Imagine if that were split up between 180 school districts and how much that would help,” Read said.

Both Chapman and Read voted in support of a board resolution in opposition to the charter measure at the April 19 Cherokee County BOE meeting. The resolution passed 4-2, though board members in opposition alleged the resolution contained “inflammatory” language and was “insulting” toward charter parents and supporters.

Chapman and Read closed the letter by saying they look forward to and expect recommendations from the committee that “demonstrate a true commitment to the 1.6 million children in Georgia’s public schools,” and to “adequately funding, sustaining and improving public education throughout the state of Georgia.”

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