Session could bring more money for school districts, teachers

The legislative session that begins next week will feature more of the education debates that have vexed lawmakers in the past.

There will be more hand-wringing over Georgia’s education funding formula. Lawmakers will once more tussle over controversial national teaching guidelines. Community activists will use the fallout from school struggles in DeKalb to push for the power to carve out new school districts. And teachers hope a growing state budget will finally allow them a raise.

Much of the frustration from teachers and administrators is over a complicated state formula that’s supposed to determine how much money districts receive. They have been getting less than it calls for since it was adopted decades ago. Deal argues the formula needs to be reworked, administrators want it fully funded, and with a November election looming there’s little chance of either happening.

What is clear, though, is that increased education funding is a guarantee in Deal’s budget proposal. He is expected to send more money to school districts and let them decide whether to use the funds for pay raises — teachers haven’t received state-backed salary increases in five years — or for other priorities. The raises would likely be between 2 and 3 percent.

“We have made progress in our state, but we still have a ways to go,” Deal said. “What we are trying to do is make sure we have adequate funds to provide teachers with the resources they need to do the best job they can. And you can expect that to increase. I can tell you that.”

It’s welcome news for education officials and advocates, who say many districts are in a financial crisis, having furloughed teachers, increased class sizes and shortened the school calendar to make ends meet. Since 2002, the state has given school districts nearly $8 billion less than they were supposed to receive under the formula, called Quality Basic Education or QBE.

Republican state Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick is set to push a proposal to nullify Common Core in Georgia, and he’s appeared at events across the state rallying support in the past few months. The House could soon consider a similar proposal as well.

State Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Dunwoody, and his allies will revive a push for a constitutional amendment that would allow any cities created after 2005 to forge their own school districts. The move would allow Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and other newer cities, or neighboring cities that band together, to create their own education systems.

Deal’s Republican adversaries, including Republican state Superintendent John Barge, will use the session to push their own education agendas.

“If it is the state leadership’s secret plan to slowly choke the life out of public education by reducing funding, the plan may very well be succeeding,” Barge said in an open letter to state legislators. In recent visits to rural schools, he added, he’s seen holes in walls, malfunctioning water fountains and principals who have turned off hall lights to save on utility bills.

And state Sen. Jason Carter, the Decatur Democrat running for governor, expects to unveil education proposals taking aim at Deal throughout the session.

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