Mike Klein Online

Wanted: Smart Folks With Good Ideas To Spend $7 Billion Per Year

Mike Klein

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.

Dean Alford

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.”

Donzella James

“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.

Brooks Coleman

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.)

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March 25, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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