Equalization Across Georgia Districts

Georgia’s schools are unfairly funded throughout the state. Public education is funded predominantly by local tax revenue, which includes money derived from property taxes within districts. Oftentimes, districts with greater property wealth raise significantly more than districts with less, leading to districts with a great population of lower-income residents having fewer resources for their schools. As a result, equalization grants have been offered around the state to remedy this issue.[1]

In the past, equalization grants in Georgia have provided much-needed financial aid to public schools. When first created, the state equalized the top 10% of districts. Equalization is meant to give extra funds to the less wealthy districts to make sure they receive similar funds to the wealthiest districts. Funding for public schools should be equal across all districts instead of it being proportional to the taxes paid in that area.[1]

In 2000, the legislature changed the benchmark to the top 25%. During the Great Recession, lawmakers capped equalization funding from FY 2010 to FY 2013 before changing the calculation altogether to where it sits currently. Now, the state has removed the top and bottom 5% of districts when calculating the equalization funds. The cumulative effect of these changes has given school districts billions of dollars less than they would have gotten otherwise.[2]

The distribution of these funds affects both students and teachers. Some districts may not be able to allocate enough of the funds to provide competitive pay. Therefore, fewer teachers will be applying to these schools. However, funds allocated to schooling and education were recently cut back again due to COVID-19. Georgia’s 2023 fiscal year budget is restoring $383 million back to the K-12 education system. Some of this money will go to teachers and increase their salaries.[3]

McDaniel v. Thomas

This issue was first brought up in court in 1981. A court ruled the school funding system unconstitutional. The Adequate Program for Education in Georgia (APEG) provided a base amount of funding for all districts. Wealthier districts used additional taxes to increase their funds. Once appealed, Georgia’s Supreme Court noticed the discrepancies in opportunities in each school. However, the constitutionality of APEG was upheld.

How Does this Help Low-Wealth Districts?

Districts are allowed to raise money through property taxes which can vary significantly depending on the value of properties in that district. These taxes can make up a significant portion of the school’s budget and that difference can be thousands of dollars per student. Additionally, some school districts can be allowed to raise money beyond what the state provides which gives those schools even more of an advantage. Georgia’s funding formula provides equalization grants to make sure districts across the state can offer comparatively similar opportunities regardless of property wealth. The process provides increased equity among the districts. Funds can be allocated based on students’ needs rather than property tax. This also limits the ability of wealthier districts to spend excessive amounts of money on unnecessary items while other schools are struggling to make it by. [1]

This picture from the GBPI explains how the equalization process works.

The continuation of these grants or similar programs is essential to the funding of Georgia’s youth. These grants have come to represent Georgia’s constitutional commitment to providing an adequate education to all students. Lawmakers should protect these grants and consider other options that can help ensure equitable outcomes for Georgia’s youth. The equalization grants benefited multiple students and districts before they were changed. These grants continue to provide many districts with many benefits but removing the top and bottom 5% of schools takes away much-needed funds. The way these funds are allocated should be based on the students, not on the wealth of properties around them. [1]

Georgia can continue providing equalization grants to districts. However, it would be better to go back to the benchmark before 2000. Some other solutions would be centralizing funding. The state can be fully responsible for allocating funds for different districts. There are multiple ways of doing this that other states have implemented. This can be done without having to pull more funds from the state. The state can also give more but pull from local funds if needed in order to equalize what is being given. [4]

On the other hand, the state can also limit districts’ access to local revenues. Districts can be prohibited from raising additional funds from property taxes. Additionally, the state can allow a certain amount of funds per child. This means that each district will get an equal amount of money per child, leaving no district with an advantage over another.[4]

[1] https://gbpi.org/georgia-k-12-equalization-grants-explained/

[2] https://gbpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Bill-Analysis-HB-824.pdf

[3] https://gbpi.org/overview-of-georgias-2023-fiscal-year-budget/

[4] https://reason.org/policy-brief/equalize-put-all-kids-on-a-level-playing-field/