By Elaine Owen, Editor ~~
For the first time in recent history, the Georgia General Assembly fully funded the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula and eliminated austerity cuts in its final passage of the Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) Budget, House Bill 684.
“Full funding for the QBE is essential to the future success of our state,” said Sen. John Albers (R- Roswell). “The FY19 budget will set the tone for generations of future growth. We have removed austerity
cuts, increased funding for our school systems and ensured the security of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS).
“Thank you to Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and the leadership of both Chambers in coming to an agreement on a budget to fully fund these priorities. Our state’s future is bright, and fully funding QBE and eliminating austerity cuts is another step in the right direction toward having one of the most successful education systems in the nation.”
The FY19 budget eliminates austerity cuts by allocating more than $167 million to the Department of Education for additional funding in K-12 schools. The budget also includes $15 million in new spending to purchase nearly 200 new school buses and $16 million to fund school safety grants throughout the state.
Representative David Ralston said, “It’s going to mean about $285,000 for Fannin County schools.”
No specifics were given as to how the increased funds will be utilized locally as the Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 12. The press release from Deal’s office stated the additional $168 million that will go toward K-12 education will bring total funding for education to $9.6 billion.
“This investment will give local school systems the opportunity to provide the programs necessary to improve struggling schools and enhance student performance,” the two-term governor said in the press release. “During my time as governor, I have consistently heard from educators who cited a lack of funding as a barrier to achieving success in their classroom. This additional $167 million will ensure the state is fully doing its financial part to address their concerns.”
The QBE Act was adopted by a unanimous vote of both houses of the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Joe Frank Harris in 1985.
This was a giant step forward in the financing of Georgia’s public schools. The QBE Act put into place a logical and comprehensive framework for providing a quality basic education to every student in Georgia. Although it did not address all aspects of an adequate education, the new law improved the funding for what it defined as a basic program. There was a significant increase in the level of State and local support, which took into account the varying resources of local school systems.
The Quality Basic Education Act could be the most misunderstood legislation in Georgia. In Fannin County, a total of $15,984,964 was withheld by the QBE formula since 2003. This is because, listed by “System Rank,” Fannin is ranked #8 (Top 5) –meaning it gets no equalization allotment. On the other hand, Cherokee County (for instance) is ranked 70—and receives an equalization allotment of $4,180,813 per year.
Local systems are permitted to levy property taxes to fund local public schools. “Millage” refers to the rate of the property tax levied. The millage rate is defined as “local tax revenues divided by the assessed valuation divided by 1000.” School systems may not levy more than 20 “Mills” (with a few exceptions) without voter approval. In addition to levying property taxes for the operation of their schools, local systems may also use bonds and SPLOSTS (sales tax) to finance school construction if approved by the voters.
The state provides additional funding to counties according to a formula that compares the relative property tax wealth of all counties in the state. Systems at or below the 75 percent level can receive equalization funding in proportion to the amount of mills they levy beyond 5 mills. (The Equalization formula was changed in 2001 to reduce the participation level from 90 percent to 75 percent and to include all mills above the first 5. In the past, only the mills between 5 and 8.25 were considered, thus creating a disincentive for local systems to raise their own millage rates.) In FY 2004, this amount was $279,355,299 and in the FY 2005 budget it is $341,006,547 – an increase of $61,651,248.
“Fully funding QBE provides a stronger foundation to lawmakers and stakeholders to reform this outdated formula to accommodate the needs of today’s students and 21st century classrooms,” Deal said, referring to the QBE formula that was created in the 1980s. Deal has added money to the QBE formula each year he’s been in office. However, it hasn’t been enough to close the gap created by the steep cuts.
“While we realize this is not an actual update to the state funding formula, which is still needed, we applaud the governor for fulfilling the state’s responsibility to our public schools and Georgia’s children,” Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman said in a statement. “We hope subsequent legislatures take his lead and continue to do what is right for Georgia’s public schools.”
State Superintendent Richard Woods had this to say, “Thank you, Gov. Deal for your proposal to full fund QBE in the FY19 budget. This is great news and a historic investment in Georgia’s schools and students.”
Valarie Wilson, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, sent out a statement of thanks to the governor but added that there is still plenty to be done when it comes to funding education. “Our public schools have faced grave financial challenges over the years, and despite those odds schools have persevered,” she said. “We are thankful to Gov. Deal and the legislature for this historic restoration of funds to educate Georgia’s public school students. We have much work to do and the stakes are higher than they have ever been.”
Outside of education, part of the increased projection of 194 million will be used to fund transit in Georgia.
“I look forward to final passage of a budget that prioritizes the long-term economic health of our state by fully funding our K-12 schools and improving transit opportunities for Georgians statewide. These additional investments, along with my other budget priorities, will continue to keep Georgia the top place to live, work and raise a family,” Deal said.