What does it mean to fully fund education?

One of the most important issues facing Georgia in the upcoming General Assembly session is how to reverse the trends of education funding.  Over the past decade, we have seen the state contribute less and less each year to the funding of our schools.  This has put more stress on local school districts to make up the difference and it is having an effect on the quality of education we provide to children in Georgia.

But what does it mean to fully fund our schools and how do we do it?  Those aren’t easy questions to answer, but Spencer Frye believes they must be answered.  To answer those questions we feel a discussion needs to be had about the sources of funding so that we can explore all of the options for delivering the maximum investment to our teachers and students.

School funding is derived from local property taxes, state appropriations to the Quality Basic Education (QBE) program and federal grant programs.  At the local level, property taxes are assessed and those funds are used to invest in both the functions of the local government and the operations of the school system.  In the Athens-Clarke County’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget approximately 59% of property tax revenues are used by the Board of Education resulting in a projected $64 million of local funding for schools.  At the state level, QBE is projected to invest $46 million to of the cost of education in Athens-Clarke County.  This results in the state providing 42% of the funding while the local government provides 58%.

Federal grants are funds handed down by the federal government that are typically used to implement a specific program.  Georgia has been the beneficiary of a couple of major grants from the Federal Department of Education in recent years.  The most prominent of these grants is the Race to the Top Program that brought $400 million to Georgia to field test new education reforms including performance-based teacher evaluation systems.  Another grant that is in the process of bringing federal money directly to Athens-Clarke County is the Promise Neighborhoods Grant.  This grant which could bring up to $500 million to Athens is being used to design a community support program for education based on the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York.

In summary, state and local funds contribute to fill the budgets of local school systems while federal grants are used to fund specific programs or test out new reforms.  All three of these funding streams are important to education in Georgia, and they illustrate the comprehensive approach needed to invest fully in our schools.

Spencer Frye believes that we must improve on our investments in schools by evaluating the QBE formula to see if it truly meets the needs of Georgia’s education system.  He believes in using recently-passed Zero-Based Budgeting legislation to ensure that all agencies of government in Georgia are spending money responsibly and reigning in agencies that are not so we can provide maximum investments in education.  He believes that if we pursue responsible economic reforms that encourage good-paying jobs to come to Athens that we can increase tax revenues without raising tax rates.  These increased tax revenues can be used to meet our constitutional obligations to provide a fully funded education to Georgia students.  Finally, Spencer believes that we should continue pursuing federal grant money that solve real problems in Athens without creating too much red tape.

All of these beliefs represent the comprehensive funding strategy we need to pursue to effectively fund education in Georgia.  Fully funded education creates an educated workforce and ensures future economic growth.  These are two cornerstones of a plan for a prosperous Georgia for generations to come.