Lawmakers will vote Thursday on Gov. Nathan Deal’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019. The governor surprised a lot of people Tuesday when he revealed plans to fully fund the state’s K-12 education formula.
More than a decade ago, the state enacted so-called “austerity cuts” to education. Deal has added money to the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula each year he’s been in office. However, it hasn’t been enough to close the gap created by the steep cuts.
“The impact of [the cuts] was pretty profound,” said Claire Suggs, senior policy analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. “We cut the school calendar. Class sizes soared because we eliminated teaching positions. We cut student programs, art and music programs. So, it had a really powerful impact.”
Now, Deal has proposed adding $167 million to the formula, which would close the gap.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, says the funding increase would mean a lot to small regions like his: “$167 million may seem, on one hand. like a lot of money, and maybe on the other hand, ‘Well, a $26 billion budget, maybe it’s not that much.’ But in my district, it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, so it’s a tremendous boost.”
However, it wouldn’t solve everything.
For one, lawmakers developed QBE in 1985. The formula hasn’t kept up with inflation. And even though they’ve tweaked it here and there, officials haven’t really updated QBE since it became law.
“What we expect students to know and be able to do when they leave high school now is very different than what we expected in 1985,” Suggs said.
Teachers’ groups and other education advocates support the move. However, they want this level of funding to continue, if not grow.
“While we realize this is not an actual update to the state funding formula, which is still needed, we applaud the governor for fulfilling the state’s responsibility to our public schools and Georgia’s children,” Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman said in a statement. “We hope subsequent legislatures take his lead and continue to do what is right for Georgia’s public schools.”
The Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) expressed similar concerns about future financial support.
“PAGE hopes that our next governor will continue Gov. Deal’s legacy by supporting Georgia students and public schools through state education policy and the state budget,” executive director Craig Harper said in a statement.
Lawmakers will have to wrestle with that issue after Deal leaves office next year.