Over the past several months, Georgia’s Education Reform Commission has been meeting to develop and issue recommendations for how to improve our educational system. We are soon approaching the time for the Committee to issue its recommendations to Governor Deal and we would like to give you an update on the current framework for some of the proposals.

A move toward a student-based funding formula

The Education Reform Commission has been studying a way to move from our current, outdated and largely ineffective funding formula to one that is student centric and provides districts more flexibility.

At StudentsFirst, we believe a quality funding formula should adhere to three main criteria:

  • Equity—every student should earn a base of funding that does not differ due to a school district’s property tax revenues
  • Adequacy—funding formula recognizes the varying needs of students attending each school, and provides grants or “weights” based on student characteristics (e.g. poverty, special needs, ELL)
  • Effectiveness—does not impose undue restrictions that prevent teachers, principals and school leaders from spending funds as they see fit to address the needs of their students

The Funding Committee’s expected recommendations accomplish all three. Funding allocations are set with a base funding amount, weights are added based on student characteristics and districts will have the flexibility in deciding how to best spend those funds to meet their students needs.

Student characteristics recommended for additional weights include:

  • K-3 education—advances smaller class sizes and reflects the state’s commitment to ensure all children are reading on grade level by third grade
  • High school—accounts for specialization of high school classes, AP courses and other, more expensive programs
    Students with disabilities – more closely aligns funding to the needs of the student as identified in a child’s IEP
  • Gifted—encourages schools to develop programs that can allow gifted students to continue to excel
  • CTAE—to advance the state’s priority to offer more career choices and cover cost of purchasing additional equipment and supplies needed for the Career Technical & Agricultural Education program
  • ESOL—for additional resources to assist children who speak a language other than English
  • Economically disadvantaged—identifies that children in poverty have additional needs that must be addressed and provides a weight for these children. Georgia’s current formula does not provide dedicated funding for children in this category.

Commitment to recruiting, retaining and compensating high quality teachers

The committee is currently examining ways to recruit more teachers to the profession, retain high quality teachers and fairly compensate them for their work to keep them in the classroom.

Financial Incentives to Attract and Keep Local Talent: As a means to increase the number of GA college students committing to teaching in Georgia, the ERC is looking to encourage the creation of a service cancellable loan program for education graduates of the University System of Georgia who stay and teach in Georgia public schools for a minimum number of years.

Increased Focus on Real-World Teacher Training: Currently, students in education programs in the University System of Georgia must undergo a semester of student teaching. The ERC plans to recommend the Board of Regents study the benefits of moving to a full year clinical practice model for education degrees. There is substantial evidence that this model, emphasizing real-world practice over theory, best prepares students for early classroom success.

Better Prepare New Teachers Through Mentoring: In an effort to improve mentoring for beginning educators, the ERC is proposing compensating classroom teachers for supervising Teacher Interns. Additionally, this provides teachers with a valuable opportunity for increased responsibility without having the leave the classroom. It is also likely they will recommend the creation of a grant program to incentivize school systems to improve mentoring programs.

Tie Teacher Compensation to Local Needs: Recognizing that no two districts are the same or have the same needs, the ERC is expected to recommend that the State Board of Education develop five different compensation models, one rural-focused and another urban-focused. Districts may select one of the state-developed models for adoption or create their own compensation model. Districts, therefore, have the flexibility to match compensation to the needs of their students, schools and district priorities. Districts are encouraged to recognize exceptional teachers in their models and have the flexibility to prioritize high need subjects or hard to staff schools.

Expanding Educational Options

Charter Schools

Every child deserves a high quality public education regardless of the type of public school he or she attends. The sustainability of existing and expansion of new charter schools ensures parents have quality school choices for their children. Barriers to funding and facilities can prevent high-quality charter schools from serving more students. A few highlights of the ERC’s recommendations on charter schools are expected to be as follows:

  • Increase access to affordable facility options
  • Increase accountability for charter schools and local charter authorizers
  • Ensure equitable funding of Georgia charter schools

Student Scholarship Tax Credits

Individuals or corporations may provide funding to nonprofit organizations in exchange for a state tax credit. Those nonprofit organizations then grant scholarships to students who wish to utilize the funds to attend private school. Tax credit scholarships expand access to a quality education for low-income students who, oftentimes, would otherwise be forced to attend low-performing public schools or schools that do not meet their particular needs (e.g. special needs children). The ERC currently plans to recommend:

  • Creation of a program similar to the existing tax credit scholarship program but specifically targeted to children of limited financial means
  • Expansion of transparency requirements for both the existing and new program

Education Savings Accounts

Education savings accounts (ESAs) place state dollars in the hands of a student’s parent or guardian, empowering them to spend education funds customized to the needs of that individual child. ESAs are meant to provide flexibility for families in purchasing personalized services for students by allowing parents to utilize the money for tuition, tutoring, counseling, textbooks or various other approved educational expenses. Arizona was the first state to adopt ESAs, followed by Florida, Tennessee and Nevada.

Current recommendations look to suggest that if the legislature chooses to pursue the creation of Education Savings Accounts in Georgia, they should follow these guiding principles:

  1. Prioritize students with greater needs, including special needs, military, ELL and low-income kids
  2. Ensure academic accountability by requiring participants to be administered nationally norm-referenced or state achievement tests, and results must be provided to a research entity selected by the state. There should also be an annual parental satisfaction survey.
  3. Ensure fiscal accountability and transparency through requiring annual audits of ESA accounts, allowing for prosecution in cases of the misuse of government funds, creation of a hotline for anonymous fraud reporting and requiring data on the use of ESA funds is collected and reported.
  4. Allowing for unused ESA funds to be saved for college tuition

The current recommendation from the Education Reform Commission can be found here. The next ERC meeting will occur on Thursday, November 19th.


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