Big things happened in 1985: Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko died and was replaced by a much younger and vibrant man, Mikhail Gorbachev. Rock Hudson died. The Atlanta Braves played dead; they lost 96 games. Madonna launched the Virgin Tour, her first road show. There was business and geek world buzz about “desktop publishing,” a neat new idea.
And in Georgia, the state adopted a public education funding model that remains with us today.
The Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) has become too old to remain effective. Personal computers were barely an idea in 1985. Now we live, learn and work in an iPad world but the financial model we use in public education is antiquated by business model standards.
“When QBE started technology was a rotary phone,” House Education chair Brooks Coleman said during a committee meeting this week. “Today we know it’s much broader than that.” So for the third time in barely more than a decade, and under a third consecutive governor, Georgia will try again.
Before it adjourns next month the General Assembly is expected to approve House Bill 192 that will try to give the QBE funding model a decent burial and replace it with something better suited to modern learning. Governor Nathan Deal supports the initiative and his office recruited help from The Gates Foundation.
The proposed State Education Finance Study Commission could have a far more significant long-term impact on Georgia public education than recently enacted new HOPE scholarship legislation. HOPE dollars are about $880 million annually; K-12 spends $7 billion per year.
Retooling education was tried under Governor Roy Barnes whose commission produced a 179-page document of mandates and requirements. Governor Sonny Perdue’s task force was chaired by entrepreneur Dean Alford, now President and CEO of Allied Energy Services. We caught up with him this week and asked what he would recommend to the new commission.
“The real question you have to go into in a new funding formula is, what is it are you trying to accomplish? Is it more accurate ways to distribute dollars, find ways to increase dollars, find ways to use state dollars? That is the question you must deal with before you get going.”
Alford cautioned the commission “should recognize that if you dictate how people spend their money that will have costs. That is an absolute guarantee. It is very difficult to develop a formula that will take care of 180 (public school) systems, thousands of schools and unique situations.”
The proposed finance study commission would cut a potentially wide swath. Literally everything would be on the table, including teacher pay for performance, how to maximize the federal government’s $400 million Race to the Top grant and nearly anything else associated with the word “money.”
“We’re not going to say this is going to cost less,” Coleman said when he addressed a Senate education sub-committee this week. “We’re saying that we’ve grown by a million and a half people so we know it’s going to cost more but we don’t have the money right now.”
Coleman’s reference to population growth recognizes Georgia grew by 1.5 million people during the past ten years. But statewide population is up 4 million since QBE was enacted in 1985. Estimates suggest Georgia population will grow by millions more during the next two decades.
Four Republicans and Democrat Donzella James unanimously passed HB 192 out of the Senate sub-committee. “This should have been studied a long time ago,” James said, “because QBE is a wonderful concept on paper but since it was never fully funded, and it has been just sporadically funded, I think that is the cause of many of our problems in the system.”
Other high profile issues would include whether school systems should continue to be given class size flexibility, the relationship between state and local funding partnerships, and a review of the arcane concept known as equalization that distributes extra state education funds to local school systems with the lowest taxable property wealth. Seventy-five percent of the state’s 180 districts qualify for these extra funds.
And it would consider how to “streamline” the process to start and fund charter schools. “Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, this is the new guy on the block and we really need to look at that,” Coleman said during his Senate sub-committee presentation.
Dollars that go to state schools for blind and deaf children would be reviewed, as would support levels for student transportation, school nutrition, migrant education and many other programs.
Georgia used a commission to analyze tax reform. Final tax legislation will be introduced Monday. Last month Governor Deal announced a one-year commission effort to reform the state adult corrections system. The education reform commission would sunset in March 2013, but this week Coleman and others said most of its work would be accomplished sooner.
“One of the things we focused on is the notion complexity did not benefit anyone, the state or the local systems,” Alford said about the initiative he led under Perdue. “Right now we spend a huge amount of dollars on staff at the state and local levels trying to manage what I consider to be something that rivals the IRS in complexity. At the end of the day it should be simple.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia has enacted legislation to save the celebrated HOPE scholarship but salvation comes at a price: Automatic full tuition payments will become the exception instead of the norm, book payments are gone, funds to help with mandatory student fees are being scaled back and students will also learn there are three strikes in baseball but just two strikes in HOPE.
Governor Nathan Deal signed “Enduring HOPE” into law this week at the Georgia Capitol. In doing so, Deal fulfilled his Inaugural Address pledge to “save HOPE for future generations.” The Georgia Lottery-funded scholarship was crashing toward a $300 million shortfall as soon as next year. Georgia had no choice but to end the full tuition promise that it made 18 years ago.
Students will be asked to do more to receive more. This fall incoming freshmen will need a 3.7 high school cumulative grade point average (4.0 maximum) to qualify for full university or technical college tuition as “Zell Miller Scholars.” HOPE was created during his first term as Governor before he served in the U.S. Senate.
Miller Scholars will also need a 1,200 minimum SAT combined reading and math score or an ACT test score of at least 26. The valedictorian and salutatorian from each eligible high school will be automatically eligible for initial full tuition payments. Miller Scholars will be required to maintain a 3.3 university or college grade point average or they will lose full tuition payments.
Incoming freshmen whose high school grade point averages are higher than 3.0 but less than 3.7 will qualify for HOPE based on Georgia Lottery available funds. The percentage will be re-established annually by the General Assembly and the amount is not guaranteed. Governor Deal estimates there will be sufficient funds to cover 90% of tuition next fall. Students must maintain a 3.0 higher education grade point average to continue the scholarship.
Students who lose the HOPE scholarship for academic reasons will have one chance to regain support if they improve their grade point average. There will be no third chance for students who slip below the minimum GPA twice. Two strikes and the HOPE scholarship will be gone.
Qualifying for HOPE will become more difficult in four years. Students who graduate from high school on or after May 1, 2015 will need at least two advanced placement course credits in math, science, core subjects, foreign languages, international baccalaureate courses or university system courses taken before high school graduation. Students who graduate in 2016 will need three course credits and 2017 graduates will need four credits.
HOPE debuted in 1993 and became wildly popular. It fueled explosive growth in the university and technical college systems. HOPE has funneled $5.9 billion in Georgia Lottery funds to 1.34 million students. It also supports an extensive pre-K system that served 81,000 kids last year.
HOPE became the symbol of Georgia’s commitment to excellence and it is regularly held up as the gold standard when the state discusses its emergence in a technology-savvy society.
Eventually the promise of full tuition and other benefits became more than Georgia could afford but so much depends on HOPE that the state could not afford for the program to go bust.
The Georgia Lottery provided $883 million in Fiscal 2010, but expenses are beyond that level; $1.13 billion this fiscal year and $1.2 billion estimated next year. This new legislation reduced next year’s estimated cost to $883 million, in line with Georgia Lottery funding estimates.
The Georgia Student Finance Commission says it has no current statistics to show how many students lose HOPE eligibility for academic reasons but it noted “a study performed in 2004 showed that approximately 50-60% of incoming HOPE eligible freshmen lose the scholarship in the first year.”
GSFC also said it has no current data about the number of students who begin higher education studies with HOPE and retain the scholarship through graduation.
Critics of the new plan contend reducing most tuition awards to less than 100% is a hardship that will cause some students to quit school or need to work. The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP staged an anti-HOPE bill rally at the Capitol and said it might urge a Georgia Lottery boycott.
Governor Deal’s office has emphasized that Georgia’s revised HOPE scholarship will provide benefits equal to or better than scholarship programs in nearby states Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. Deal’s office also said New Mexico is the only state that covers full tuition, but as a reimbursement instead of the model used in Georgia, an upfront tuition credit.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Moments after Nathan Deal became the 82nd Governor of Georgia on Monday afternoon he predicted a more limited government that perhaps chooses different missions by vowing, “We must justify every cent that government extracts from our society.”
Deal’s inaugural address was predictably short on program specifics. Those begin to come this week when the governor delivers his State of the State address and releases his first proposed budget, both on Wednesday. His address focused on statewide unemployment, corrections system reform, education, the HOPE scholarship, transportation, water and health care.
“The lingering pain of this great recession in which we are still engulfed has underscored the urgency of re-examining the role of government in our lives,” said Deal, who served nine terms in Congress. “The evolution of society has infringed on much of the elbow room that our ancestors enjoyed, and government has been asked to regulate our actions as we bump into each other in our frantic search for success.
“In times of economic prosperity we often ignore the costs and inconvenience of governmental paternalism. But in times such as these with more than one of every ten of our employable citizens out of work we must justify every cent that government extracts from our economy.”
Deal said one-in-13 Georgians is under correctional control, meaning in custody, on probation or on parole, and he said it costs $3 million per day to operate the Department of Corrections. “Yet every day criminals continue to inflict violence on our citizens and an alarming number of the perpetrators are juveniles,” the governor said.
“College students should be concerned about their grades, not whether they are going to be mugged on their way home from class. Visitors to our cities should be treated as welcome guests, and protected. Families should not live in fear of gang violence or drive-by shootings. But most of all, our dedicated law enforcement officers must not be target for criminals. Anyone who harms one of them harms us all.”
The former state legislator from Gainesville promised violent and repeat offenders that, “We will make you pay for your crimes. For other offenders who want to change their lives, we will provide the opportunity to do so with day reporting centers, drug, DUI and mental health courts, and expanded probation and treatment options.
“As a state we cannot afford to have so many of our citizens waste their lives because of addictions,” Deal said. “It is draining our state treasury and it is depleting our work force.”
Deal praised his predecessors and “dedicated teachers and educators” but he noted Georgia K-12 public education “has failed to make the progress that we need. This failure is a stain on our efforts to recruit businesses to our state and is a contributing factor to the frightening crime statistics that I previously mentioned. High dropout rates and low graduation percentages are incompatible with my vision for the future of the state of Georgia.”
Deal sought to assure families who wonder about the long-term future of the financially challenged HOPE scholarship program. “”I was not elected to make easy decisions but difficult ones,” Deal said. “In this legislative session we will save HOPE for future generations.”
Deal emphasized the Savannah and Brunswick ports are Georgia’s link to an ever expanding international trade community. “We will do our part to deepen the Savannah port in order to accommodate the larger vessels that will soon pass through the Panama Canal, but we must do more. Our rail capacity and cargo routes must be improved and expanded. We must not miss this opportunity to provide jobs for Georgians.”
The governor described Atlanta metro highway congestion as “a deterrent to job growth in the region. If we do not solve this problem soon we will lose the businesses who want to expand or locate in our state.”
Deal also inherits the Tri-State Water War. A federal court judge ruled Alabama, Florida and Georgia must reach agreement before July 2012 or Congress will impose a solution. All three states have new Republican governors, but that does not ensure agreement. All three states had Republican governors during Sonny Perdue’s eight years as Georgia governor.
Deal vowed the state will continue to negotiate but will also develop regional reservoirs. “We are blessed with abundant water resources and we must use them wisely.”
The new governor was blunt in his assessment of federal health care policy, widely known as Obamacare. “As governor I will resist the efforts of the federal government to mandate its solutions on our people, our businesses and our state government.”
The new governor assumed office three days after a special council issued the state’s most dramatic tax reform proposals in eighty years. Legislative approval would reduce personal and corporate income tax rates, and make significant changes to sales taxes on products and services, including collection of sales tax on groceries. He did not mention the tax proposals.
Fiscal issues will dominate every General Assembly conversation this session and dictate which priorities prevail. The next state budget faces an estimated $2 billion shortfall. Georgia will lose $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds. It must also repay $425 million to the federal government because the state has been borrowing federal dollars to write unemployment checks.
Deal inherits an economy that is taking tentative steps to rebound from recession. Georgia’s 10.1% unemployment rate is still several percentage points higher than the national average. State government revenue that plunged over two fiscal years has begun to recover with seven consecutive monthly year-to-year increases, but improvement will not balance the budget.
Deal returned to his leaner, more focused model of government in concluding remarks. “State government should not be expected to provide for us what we can provide for ourselves,” he said. “Let us refocus state government on its core responsibilities and relieve our taxpayers of unnecessary programs. Let us be frugal and wise. Let us restore the confidence of our citizens in a government that is limited and efficient.”
The inaugural ceremony was held at the House chamber at the State Capitol. Overnight snow and ice that paralyzed Georgia caused cancellation of the planned outside ceremony, a morning church service and the Philips Arena evening gala in downtown Atlanta.
Deal was joined by his wife Sandra. Their daughter Katie sang “Georgia On My Mind.” Their son, Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, administered the 47-word oath of office. Dignitaries in the state House chamber included U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, Congressman Phil Gingrey and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
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