Mike Klein Online

Will Georgia Abandon ’65 Rule’ on Classroom Instruction Spending?

Mike Klein

A state education finance commission composed of lawmakers and others inside the learning game has recommended Georgia abandon the “65 rule” that mandated school districts spend that percentage of state funds on classroom instruction.  “It doesn’t have any relevance to academic performance,” said commission co-chair Senator Fran Millar.

Millar carried the 65 percent rule bill during former Governor Sonny Perdue’s administration as one more idea to improve learning in classrooms statewide.  Despite what he described as the 65 rule’s “well-intended impact,” state school Superintendent John Barge agreed with Millar that, “The research was very clear that it has not made any significant impact.”

The recommendation was among dozens approved Wednesday when the education finance study commission held a public meeting at the Georgia Transmission headquarters in Tucker.  Forty-three of the state’s 180 school districts have waivers from the “65 rule” and others without waivers have been unable to meet the requirement.  The recession hammered state and local funding resources for education budgets.  Fiscal recovery has been tepid.

Superintendent John Barge

“There are a lot of things (in the 65 rule) that are not included in instruction, things like media specialists and school counselors,” Barge said during an interview.  “When those aren’t included systems don’t get to include those personnel as part of classroom instruction.  Having been a high school principal, I know that my media specialists do a lot of classroom instruction.”

Some ideas approved Wednesday fit under what Barge described as “low hanging fruit that are obvious,” essentially, outdated mandates, some decades old that have been replaced in code or in practice.  One outdated restriction bans devices like iPads in classrooms. Another equally ancient idea gives the state Board of Education authority to approve any school system expenditure over $100.  In practice, that has not been happening so it is irrelevant.

The finance commission did not make recommendations on its two biggest challenges: First, how to resolve underfunding problems with equalization grants paid to the state’s least wealthy school systems; and, second, how to revise the state’s basic education funding formula in place since 1985.  The formula is known as QBE, the acronym for Quality Basic Education.

“Equalization is critical, to get that right, to see that we’re taking care of the systems that really have the needs,” said commission co-chair Rep. Brooks Coleman. Georgia has 180 public school systems.  Equalization grants are paid to 75 percent of districts statewide, those that have the state’s lowest available local funds.  Under the existing formula, the state should invest about $600 million per year into equalization, but available funds are just $400 million.  That means the program is under-funded by about one-half and it requires rethinking the formula.

Representative Brooks Coleman

QBE impacts every public school system.  “Is QBE fine?  Is the formula okay? We feel it is but it needs to be updated,” Coleman said.  “It hasn’t been updated in 25 years.  There is no way we can restore the austerity cuts so we will have to say, here’s what QBE has right now.  Over the next few years where do we see placing the monies that come in?  When you talk about QBE, 90 percent of that is teacher salaries, so there is not a lot of extra money.”  The commission seems intent on including classroom technology costs in the next QBE formula.

There was extensive discussion about how the state and local systems share transportation funding.  Georgia schools operate 15,000 buses.  One recommendation would exempt schools from the 7.5 percent motor fuel tax; the exemption would save schools $5 million per year.

The commission approved what subcommittee chair Kelly Henson described as a “modest recommendation” to increase state support for schools transportation by $20 million annually to $150 million.  That would assist school systems with drivers’ salaries, liability insurance, drug testing and some operating costs.  The extra $20 million would phase in over four years.

The commission discussed whether systems should fund transportation for students who live less than 1.5 miles from their school.  The debate quickly became a conversation about safety with Sen. Lindsey Tippins insisting that the state emphasize safety regardless of cost.

Senator Fran Millar

School systems will also be encouraged to consider installing more stop arm cameras on buses to identify drivers who disregard the STOP sign on buses picking up or dropping off students.  Millar said there are thousands of documented cases in which drivers put children in peril.  One idea would encourage systems to share revenue from offenders with camera vendors to help offset initial costs to install cameras.

Equalization, QBE and other eventual recommendations are expected to go before lawmakers when the General Assembly returns next week.  Transportation recommendations will not be complete until later this year and would go before lawmakers in the 2013 Legislature.

“The bottom line of all of this is, for those systems that get good results we should give them as much flexibility as possible,” Millar said.  “That’s the overall thing, but what I’m saying is, we can’t just be adding money here, there and everywhere. We can’t afford it.   No matter what we do in these meetings, we’re going to modify whatever we come out with here.  We’re getting the relatively easy things done now.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making The Grade: A Must See Film About Georgia School Choice

Mike Klein

The Georgia school choice story sometimes appears to need new faces and voices other than the usual suspects – politicians, teachers, charter school leaders and, yes, even policy folks who continue to push the pedal for increased school choice options.

Many new faces and voices tell their stories in a terrific film that will premiere Thursday evening at the Cobb Galleria Centre with remote showings at locations statewide.  “Making the Grade in Georgia: Educational Freedom and Justice for All” packs a lot into one half-hour.  Regardless of where you stand on school choice, this film should be watched because it educates.

Thursday’s Cobb Galleria Centre premiere is free to the public.  The Making the Grade in Georgia website has details plus information about live streaming locations scheduled in Albany, Ellijay, Rome and Atlanta.  The film was commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Georgia.

“When parents choose then schools compete,” says Virginia Galloway, state director of AFP – Georgia. “When schools compete everybody wins because we have better options to offer the kids in Georgia.”  AFP – Georgia retained Atlanta TeleProductions to produce the documentary.

Much is at stake in the Georgia school choice movement.  Last spring the state Supreme Court overturned the charter schools commission.  Governor Nathan Deal approved a $10.9 million rescue that enabled several existing schools to open this year.  The future of Georgia charter schools authorization will be back before the General Assembly starting next week.

Now about new faces and voices in Making the Grade:  You will meet Jewel Faison, executive director at A School for Children in Albany.  “We provide multi-age, non-graded learning environments for children between the ages of seven to 17.  That means we get back to the one-room school house where everybody is important and every need is met,” says Faison.

“We’re not a school for children with difficulties.  We’re a school for children.  However, we have an opportunity to serve children that have had difficulties,” says Faison.  “When I see those childrens’ lives transformed … when they can begin to take correction and not respond negatively that is very impactful to me.  That gets me up in the morning.”

You will meet Perry Everson, a student at Pataula Charter Academy in Edison.  “We get to do this hands-on learning.  You just don’t sit there and copy all these things out of your textbook and memorize all these notes.  You get to go and actually do it.  It’s really helped me learn a lot more because you get to do it and once you do it, it really sticks in your brain.”

You will meet Kim Whipple, mother of eight.  Two are in college, one attends private school and five attend Georgia Cyber Academy.  “For those people who want to home school but don’t feel quite comfortable in doing that on their own… this is a perfect option,” Whipple says.

You will meet Morgan Giesler.  The young musical artist has her own website, five songs on iTunes; she recently recorded in Nashville and Morgan will be in Los Angeles this month to pursue her acting and singing.  Morgan is a hybrid school pupil; she studies at home and in a supervised setting.

“If you have a kid who is not having to go to the theater, doing singing, dancing, all this stuff, if they enjoy their public school and they like it, I think they should go there,” says Morgan.  “But if they don’t enjoy it and they are doing other things I think that is when you should move them.”  Her proud mother, Dina Giesler, says Morgan “is thriving.”

By some estimates, 1.5 million adult Georgians do not have a high school diploma.  More than 60,000 high school seniors failed to graduate on-time in 2010.  Our statewide high school graduation rate, about 65 percent on-time, puts Georgia in the bottom five of all 50 states.

“Our education system, I’m going to put it in my vernacular, is jacked up from the floor up.  It’s broken,” says Melvin Everson, chairman of Georgia’s EEOC.  “I support my public schools but we have to come to the realization, one size doesn’t fit all.  Home school, private school, public school, charter school; whatever it takes to educate this workforce, we better do it.”

The film says about three-in-ten Georgia students in lower grades achieve basic proficiency in reading and math.  “The impact of this is that the societal divide widens between the haves and the have nots,” says Jerri Nims Rooker, director at the Center for an Educated Georgia.

The long-term economic impact of an under-educated population is well documented:  lower lifetime earnings, higher unemployment and other social needs.  “We’re just losing generations of, especially, young minority males,” Georgia Tech economist Christine Ries says in the film.

Major players who support school choice are present.  “The challenges are enormous but we have to win this issue,” says Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. “If we’re going to be competitive economically we’ve got to improve all schools,” says Georgia Public Policy Foundation president Kelly McCutchen.  “That’s why we believe in school choice.”

Making the Grade begins with the premise that school choice is good for Georgia and it stays on the point.  The film acknowledges Georgia public education progress in many sectors – special needs and tax credits scholarships, and the increased use of technology everywhere in learning – but it equally makes the point that not everyone has the same access.

“Success is when we have our students developing strong problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills,” says Steven Walker, CEO at Tech High School in Atlanta.  “You’re going to collaborate and learn how to work with each other and you’re going to learn how to communicate well and you’re going to be very respectful and understanding of your community as a citizen.  The biggest thing that we are proud of is we are preparing them to be successful.”

AFP – Georgia plans to make DVDs of Making the Grade available statewide.  Discussions are underway that could result in television broadcasts.  Thursday evening’s Cobb Galleria Centre and satellite viewing locations are open to the public.  The movie will also be streamed onto the documentary website at www.makingthegrademovie.com.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment