Time to reform way state’s schools are funded
by JoEllen Smith
Columnist
January 30, 2013 11:48 PM | 1794 views | 5 5 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Cobb County School District is the 26th largest school system in the country and the second largest in Georgia, with a student population of over 106,000. I don’t believe simply throwing money at schools will fix them. However, we can’t starve them into improvement either. It’s true that budgets in every area are being reduced by the state Legislature. However, education is disproportionally denied funding through multiple avenues.

First, there is a formula (QBE), detailing how much money local schools will receive each year from the state. However, the Cobb school district never gets this budgeted amount. Total “austerity cuts” have amounted to over $425 million since 2003. Last year alone they were over $72 million.

Fortunately, legislation has just been introduced to stop austerity cuts and restore past shortages. Senate Bill 42 is being supported by the Georgia PTA. I don’t think it’s feasible in this economy to ask for restoration of past shortages.

However, it’s highly appropriate to request a halt to future cuts. I also believe a caveat should be added requiring that money to be used solely for adding and retaining teachers.

Next, there is the misnamed “Equalization Grant” which drains additional funds from local schools. As a result of state law, the Cobb County School District forfeits approximately $135 million dollars per year to other county school districts. Why? Cobb is considered “rich.” A metro county which is considered needy, and therefore a recipient of our funds, is Gwinnett. Cobb’s education money is taken by the Legislature and redistributed, while our class sizes increase and our teachers are laid off. The Cobb County Association of Educators has suggested that the equalization grant be capped at $100 million per year. That’s a very reasonable request.

Although 90 percent of the CCSD budget is for staff, with 70 percent being solely instructional employees, some claim that the district’s central administration is excessively large and overpaid. If true, that absolutely needs to be addressed. However, even if we cut 20 staffers from central administration, making an average of $100,000 including benefits, it would equal less than 1 percent of all the cuts imposed by the state annually, or just over 2 percent of the current year’s deficit. I’d like to focus my energy first on the big dollars and then address the other.

In theory, the state is supposed to fund the bulk of public education, with the local entities supplementing it. In reality, Cobb is paying 52 percent of that bill locally. Most of that comes from property tax. The majority of counties which receive the “equalization grant” pay under 35 percent locally. This is how strongly we in Cobb value K-12 education. However, while paying less and less of its obligation, our state legislators increasingly pass more laws restructuring local education and moving decision-making down to the Capitol; leaving the community, PTAs and School Councils with little say locally.

As a result of all these varied cuts, the Cobb school board recently announced that, for the coming year, they are expecting a record budget deficit of $79 million. Over the next few months they will be grappling with how and where to cut. For certain, many teachers will be laid off (350 were initially suggested) and there will be furlough days. Instead of supporting small class sizes, state legislators are moving toward a paradigm of private companies implementing K-12 education, mainly online, with teachers only being “coaches.” Some even call it the “factory-model” with no trace of irony. It’s highly detrimental to our students to replace teacher interaction with computer screens.

Call your state legislators and tell them of your support for your individual school and the teachers who’ve made a difference in your children’s lives. Let’s all try to speak more loudly and often, to drown out the well paid voices of the for-profit, and online, school lobbyists.

JoEllen Smith is a former candidate for the Georgia House of Representative from northeast Cobb.
Comments
(5)
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Rework QBE
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January 31, 2013
Thank you for drawing attention to this issue, Jo Ellen. Where do members of the Cobb Delegation stand on reworking the QBE? This is educational welfare.
Kevin Foley
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January 31, 2013
Georgia legislature's starving of public schools is a disgraceful, cynical outrage.

If you want your kid to get a good education, send him or her to one our fine and expensive private schools.

All you kids whose parents don't have that kind of money, prepare for careers at Burger King.

K Marx
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January 31, 2013
Teachers of Cobb unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!
anonymous
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January 31, 2013
There are many points to this column, most of which are very good.

Ms. Smith hits it out of the ballpark bringing up the online and for-profit courses being taught and pushed by lobbyists and educrats hoping to add wealth to their already-healthy pensions. My daughter took one on-line class in high school, taught be a longtime teacher with close ties to administrators and known for bragging about how she can now stay home and raise her family while teaching online. This woman was never available to students via e-mail, never responded to my daughter, who needed the class to graduate, or even to us parents. The class was a complete bomb, with students required to do nothing except their resume. They were completely unprepared for the online final. No discussion, no lasting learning. and a ripoff at hundreds of dollars cost to us. Fix this problem, and for goodness sake, don't make it bigger.
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