LEGISLATIVE PRIORITY 3
INVEST IN GEORGIA'S PUBLIC SCHOOLS
& THEIR FUTURE
PAGE Legislative Priority 3:
Invest in Georgia's Public Schools
and Their Future
PAGE is Georgia’s largest professional organization for educators, representing more than 95,000 teachers, administrators, and school personnel throughout the state. Our members drafted and approved their 2021 Legislative Priorities, which will guide PAGE’s advocacy during the legislative session. This page supplements the 2021 PAGE Legislative Priorities Overview.
Invest in Georgia’s public school students and their future:
Eliminate the $1 billion austerity cut implemented in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.
Do not expand Georgia’s two private school voucher programs or establish a third one.
Institute transparency and accountability measures on Georgia’s tuition tax credit voucher program.
Funding affects student outcomes, especially for low-income students. Prior to the current economic downturn, Georgia spent about $2,300 less than the national average for each student and was ranked 36th in funding (see footnote 1). The challenges of serving students effectively with limited resources are compounded this year due to a cut of nearly $1 billion in state funds in the wake of the pandemic-triggered economic downturn. Fortunately, in his budget proposals currently under consideration in the legislature, Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed a partial restoration of the state funds cut from public schools by adding back $567 million. Securing adequate funding for Georgia’s public school students is essential for their future success and the state’s long-term economic health.
The state’s ability to provide adequate money for public school students is further constrained by funds diverted to two private school voucher programs: the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship and the Georgia Student Scholarship Program (see footnote 2). Their combined price tag is approximately $129 million annually.
Georgia Special Needs Scholarship
A traditional voucher financed with approximately $29 million in state funds.
Directed to students with specific special education needs, served under an Individual Education Plan (IEP), and who attended a public school for one year.
Georgia Student Scholarship Program
Funded through $100 million in tax credits issued each year by the state to people or corporations that donate to private, voucher-granting organizations, which are known as student scholarship organizations or SSOs.
Available to all pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students. Students in other grades are eligible if they attend a public school for six weeks, have a documented case of bullying, were homeschooled, or would attend a public school identified by the state as poorly performing.
Quality Basic Education Funding
The $1 billion cut to Georgia’s K-12 funding formula, the Quality Basic Education formula (QBE) strains already tight school district budgets, intensified by rising pandemic-related costs. These costs include: cleaning/sanitation, technology to support virtual instruction, meal preparation and delivery, transportation, and capital improvements (see footnote 3). Districts must also develop strategies to address pandemic-driven student learning losses, as well as rising student mental health needs.
Gov. Kemp aims to shrink the austerity cut to the QBE formula to approximately $383 million in his proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2021 budget. If approved by the General Assembly, this will be a critical first step toward providing districts the funds they need to meet student needs. Lawmakers should eliminate the austerity cut in full. They should also provide districts with resources needed to ensure students do not experience lasting harm to academic success or mental health due to the pandemic. This includes attracting and keeping great educators; providing sufficient numbers of school counselors, social workers and other support staff; offering personalized learning experiences; reducing class size; and extending learning time. Lawmakers can help do so by funding school counselors for special education and gifted students, covering 50 percent of districts’ student transportation, and updating QBE funding for substitute teachers—each is longstanding financial challenge for districts due to state funding mechanisms.
Private School Vouchers
Though more than 10 years old, neither of Georgia’s voucher programs have been evaluated. Transparency requirements for the programs are limited, and there is no accountability system for either voucher program to identify participating private schools that consistently fail to meet student needs. The poor track record of positive effect from the use of vouchers on student achievement in other states is a troubling flag for Georgia’s voucher programs. A second warning comes from the Georgia Department of Audits, which recently reviewed the tax credit voucher program. The review focused on the program’s financial operations and found them lacking, stating “Increased legislative oversight and additional legal measures are needed to fully assess SSO’s compliance with state law" (see footnote 4). State agencies cannot collect even basic information to verify that voucher-granting organizations comply with state law. The audit department also noted that no information about student outcomes is required, in contrast to other states. It recommends that lawmakers increase the program’s transparency and accountability requirements.
Georgia lawmakers should not expand the state’s existing voucher programs or create a third voucher program. Too little is known about the current voucher programs to allocate more of the state’s limited resources to them. In addition, legislators should bolster the transparency and accountability requirements of the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship and the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship.
Farrie, D., Kim, R., & Sciarra, D.G. (2019). Making the grade 2019: How fair is school funding in your state? Newark, NJ: Education Law Center. Retrieved from: https://edlawcenter.org/assets/Making-the-Grade/Making%20the%20Grade%202019.pdf
The full name of the tax credit voucher program is Qualified Education Expense Credit and Student Scholarship Program
Owens, S. & Allen, E. (2020). Difficult choices made worse by budget cuts: Results from GBPI’s 2020 school district survey. Atlanta, GA: Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from: https://gbpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Superintendent-Survey-2020-update.pdf
Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. (2021). Special examination report no. 20-12: Qualified education expense credit and student scholarship program. Atlanta, GA: Same. Retrieved from https://www.audits.ga.gov/PAO/20-12_QEEC-SSP.html