Georgia is very fortunate to have a public servant as devoted, level-headed and thoughtful as Joe Martin. Joe has a vast knowledge of education issues in Georgia and has been instrumental in serving as a watchdog for our schools—even going so far as to run for state superintendent of schools last year. Joe also served as Executive Director of the Georgia School Funding Association, and was on the committee that wrote Georgia's Quality Basic Education funding formula. He expertly guided the crowd through the very tedious system of Georgia’s education funding called QBE (Quality Basic Education) at the Emory Lavista Parent Council meeting Friday at Hawthorne ES.
In the formula, each student is assigned a “value”. A regular education high school student has a value of 1.0. Kindergartners have higher values and the value declines as children age. "Program" points are higher: gifted students receive 1.6 points and special education points can be even higher. This value is basically a multiplier and FTE represents revenue. Cost categories are assigned values as well, such as teachers, paras, counselors, textbooks, maintenance, social workers, operations, media specialists—all the components necessary to run a functional, effective schoolhouse are assigned an associated cost. So, students represent revenue and the others represent costs. These components are then layered one upon another creating a funding framework for each of our school systems statewide. The state allocates funding to systems based on the total number of students (FTE values) reported in October and then school systems reallocate those FTE points to individual schools. Principals then decide how to spend their allotted FTE "credits" (within state and federal laws).
Believe it or not, the dollars assigned as multipliers for schoolhouse essentials have not been updated since 1985! For example, the state budget still only allocates about $40 for a high school textbook. In addition, after adding the total number of “FTE” points and calculating the funding for a school system, the state—upon deciding that they don’t “like” or have the money to pay the number the formula produces—makes “austerity” cuts to the QBE budget! So, we have a double-whammy: first, there is no funding adjustment for inflation since 1985 and then the state makes arbitrary cuts to funding our schools. The state has a Constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education to our children, yet the state continues to abdicate it’s responsibility. These "austerity" cuts have left our education budget is where it is: crimped and snipped year after year until we now stand at the point where in order to bring funding to DeKalb schools (in today’s dollars) to the level it was in 1998, the state would need to increase it's annual contribution by 45.3%. Further, DeKalb County, then participates in “Equalization” where a portion of its revenue is given into a pot that is “redistributed” out to “poorer” counties (this is based on property tax revenue – so essentially if the county commissioners raise property taxes by a few mil some of those funds will go into a pot to be redistributed to poorer counties) – so now we have a “triple whammy.”
In answer to the “450” students per school number we have heard discussed in relation to our current redistricting conversation, Joe tells us that the state cares very little about our buildings and the numbers of students in them, as far as FTE funding. The 450 number is a result of basic expectations: 6 grades x 3 classes per grade x 25 students in each class. However, as Lynn Jackson informed us, it does matter to the state when it comes to funding construction projects for new schools and additions. The state won’t give us money for an addition to an over-crowded school if there are other schools that are under-utilized anywhere in the district regardless of their actual location in the county. Even here the 450 number is not magical as it pertains only to a small portion of new construction financing (ie whether a new elementary school receives state dollars primarily for a gym). And we learned that states do not count schools with less than 225 in construction funding formulas.
But for QBE FTE funding, the state merely takes the FTE count given them by the county in October (which can be amended in January), applies it to the QBE formula and sends a big “check” to each school system. It is up to school boards to spend that money as fiscally conservatively and effectively as possible. That means our school board needs to ensure that buildings are properly utilized, school staff is not redundant and other resources are not wasted.
Local school systems then reassign those FTE credits (with dollars attached) to individual schools where principals then decide how to spend their budget within the requirements of the law. Staffing requirements and extras beyond what the state sends is paid by local tax dollars. 450 seems to be a breaking point at which a school has enough state funding to hire an assistant principal but allows for no special staffing. When you have more students, of course, you get more funding and proportionately, principals can hire special staff such as art, music and PE. The state does not have a voice in how schools spend FTE dollars other than the fact that schools must stay within state laws for class size and special program staffing such as gifted. Federal laws mandate how special education money should be spent. [Please note: Principals play no role in filing the FTE count for their school.]
Joe encouraged us all to demand better funding from the state as mandated by our state Constitution. To illustrate the cuts made to education by the state, our funding responsibility has essentially flipped. In 1998, the state funded 49.2% of the revenue for schools, with local systems paying in 50.8%. In FY 2010, the numbers are drastically different: the state pays only 38.4% of the total school revenue, leaving local systems picking up 61.6% of the costs. We have dropped below the threshold necessary for the state to adequately fund education. Georgia is still ranked 49th in the nation and unless we seriously fund what we claim to be important, our ranking will not improve and our children will continue to suffer the lifelong repercussions of having received a poor education.
As Joe said, “this is not about ‘those’ kids—these our ‘our’ kids. Public education is for the public good.” Call or write your state legislator and demand the state of Georgia rise to it’s Constitutional responsibility to provide an adequate education for each and every child in our state.
For more in-depth but easy to understand information on FTE, click here and download a great Powerpoint called FTE for Dummies written by Paige Cooley of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.