ATLANTA – The chairman of a panel looking for ideas to improve the way public schools are funded said Thursday he didn’t want to replicate the mistakes that prevented past studies from succeeding, but his committee members argued for repeating the others’ methodology nonetheless.

Gov. Nathan Deal appointed school administrators, legislators and state agency technicians to his Education Reform Commission, and one of its central tasks is updating the 30-year-old Quality Basic Education funding formulate embedded in state law. Since it was written, multiple studies have failed to come up with a substantive revision.

Indeed, the current commission asked for more time because it can’t meet the governor’s Aug. 1 deadline.

Charles Knapp, the former University of Georgia president who chairs the funding subcommittee of Deal’s commission, said Wednesday that he had looked at why previous efforts stalled and concluded that they bogged down by starting with attempts to determine the money needed to provide a good education.

“My concern with this is a lot of the groups that have done that never got off of that,” he said.

He proposed skipping that step entirely and zeroing in on how the actual formula should be rewritten.

For example, school nurses and computers weren’t funded by the state when QBE was devised, and now they get so-called categorical grants outside the formula. That means when the legislature increases funding for the formula, nurses and computers don’t benefit unless lawmakers specifically add a boost for those grants.

Members of the funding subcommittee disagreed with Knapp and insisted that some type of financial target was needed first.

“You’ve got to have a rational basis for the numbers,” said Rep. Tom Dickson, chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee and a former local superintendent.

Past QBE studies concluded that significantly more money was needed for public schools to ensure every student gets an adequate education. But the legislature has never fully funded the current formula, and since the start of the last recession, it has instituted what it calls austerity cuts that have forced local districts to pony up a bigger share of the total costs.

Commission members this go-round recognize they’re not going to convince lawmakers to boost spending 40 percent or more, but they weren’t instructed to find shortcuts to string out the current funding level either, said Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“To say we’re not putting money into education is not true,” said Hill, R-Reidsville, noting that the state has increased education spending $500 million in each of the last two years and that teacher salaries constitute one-third of the entire state budget.

Knapp acquiesced and said the subcommittee’s next meeting would begin discussions about the existing state and local funding as well as looking at the same figures from similar states that enjoy higher student achievement. But he said sorting out the 18 factors in the current QBE formula would be tricky enough.

“This is a Rubik’s cube of mammoth proportions,” he said. “Anything you move affects so many other things.”

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