ATLANTA – Members of the Georgia Education Reform Commission met Tuesday to consider ways to give local school boards more discretion in how they spend billions of dollars in state taxpayer appropriations.

Funding is currently based on a complex formula developed in the 1980s as part of the Quality Basic Education Act, which the legislature has never fully funded. Money is allocated to districts based on multiple factors like enrollment in various programs and special classes for certain handicapped or especially bright students.

Critics have long complained about the restrictions that require local school districts to spend their state allocations within those funding categories even if the local circumstances mean the money could be better used otherwise. Gov. Nathan Deal, who appointed the commission, and legislative leaders have said that allowing districts that latitude would improve education without requiring additional taxpayer money.

The commission’s assignment is to find ways to remove restrictions.

One idea discussed Tuesday was a teacher-compensation plan tried in the Marietta city school system. Superintendent Emily Lembeck said that pay is important in attracting teachers when roughly 6,000 retire each year but Georgia schools produce fewer than 200 each in science and math.
“Keep in mind that ‘competitive’ is a word you’re going to hear more of,” she told the commission’s funding committee.

The Georgia Department of Education advices that the commission include in its recommendations that teacher raises based on longevity and advanced college degrees be included in a new, per-pupil funding formula. That would give district options on how they reward teachers to remain competitive above the base salary the state provides.

The chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, warned such a shift may not be uniformly popular.
“I suspect we will get the same pushback you got in Marietta,” he said. “…Certain districts will make out like bandits.”

The Reform Commission’s funding committee is chaired by former University of Georgia President Charles Knapp who favors a short transition period as long as the per-pupil formula also accounts for the cost differences with students qualifying for tutoring or advanced classes.

“It’s not exactly ‘all students are the same.’ You have a weighting,” he said.

He is asking his committee to agree on how much extra weight to give to the various categories.

The commission has been meeting all winter with a goal of preparing a set of recommendations by Aug. 1, the day the governor’s staff begins preparing its proposed state budget for the next fiscal year.

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