Proposed school funding formula: Simplified, but not transparent, adequate or equitable

Joseph G. Martin Jr. is an expert on school funding and helped write the original Quality Basic Education formula. He was involved in educational policy at the local and state levels for many years and was often called upon by the Legislature to share his expertise on school finance issues. Martin is now working in international development.

Because of his background, I asked him to look at the newly released recommendations of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission on school funding and tell us what he thinks.

By Joseph G. Martin, Jr.

The Education Reform Commission has issued a broad range of recommendations, many of which will be very beneficial, but its efforts to design a new formula for the financing of Georgia’s schools were hampered by political constraints.

The existing QBE formula, as it is known, was enacted in 1985.  Even those of us who were involved in creating this formula recognize the need for revisions.  It’s important to simplify the formula and give greater flexibility to local schools.  However, the formula has to have enough structure to ensure that the State fulfills its obligation under the Georgia constitution to provide an adequate education for every student.

The formula recommended by the commission begins with a “base amount” that is supposed to represent the cost of the general program in grades 6 to 8.  This cost is then extended to cover other grade levels and characteristics through the use of multiples.  The key problem is that the base amount, on which the entire formula is built, is not a realistic measure of what it costs to provide an adequate education.  It was derived from the current spending for this program.  The serious deficits and “austerity cuts” that exist in the QBE formula would continue.  They just wouldn’t be shown anymore.  And the lack of a clear and logical way to determine the actual needs would become even more harmful in the future.

Simply stated, the starting point for the proposed formula is an arbitrary number based on what has happened in the past instead of a careful estimate of the cost of an adequate education.  Even though local schools should be able to choose the method of instruction, they still need a realistic level of support to educate their students.

Another major problem is the complete elimination of the two programs to prevent students from falling behind (the Early Intervention Program) and enable the students who have fallen behind to catch up (the Remedial Education Program).  These programs have been replaced by a small adjustment for poverty.  This can be a self-fulfilling prophesy, because it assumes that all disadvantaged students are not doing well in school and that the only students who need extra help come from low-income families.  Moreover, the additional funding on a per-student basis for poverty is less than a third of the addition for gifted students.

The third problem is a missed opportunity.  The most complex and misunderstood parts of the QBE formula relate to the adjustments for the wide disparities in the local tax digest throughout Georgia.   The current mechanisms contain misleading assumptions and internal constraints which inhibit their equalizing effect.  It’s possible to correct those flaws and construct a simple formula that achieves the desired result.  Unfortunately, this need was not addressed in the recommendations of the commission.

The public may be lulled to sleep by the fact that the total funding will increase slightly if all of the recommendations are fully implemented.  That temporary result doesn’t mean this is a good formula, but only that the previous funding of QBE was even more inadequate in meeting the needs of our students.

One of the announced goals for the commission was to simplify the formula.  This goal has been accomplished, but at the expense of transparency as well as adequacy and equity.

Reader Comments 0

54 comments
Bitcoined
Bitcoined

To the socialists among us, the school funding mechanism is just another opportunity to redistribute wealth away from its makers to society's takers.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Bitcoined I understand your declining to put your real name on your comment.

Bitcoined
Bitcoined

Still miss the old Iron Curtain, eh?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Bitcoined


Yes. Just like roads, fire protection, police protection, libraries, water service, etc. They need to take away all that junk and let it be sold in the marketplace. Dadgum socialistic wealth distribution. Trickle down wealth distribution is by far the best way to go.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"Ask any teacher whether social promotion works and you will receive a straightforward answer: It doesn't."

anothercomment
anothercomment

Also do a google search for the top 20 school districts in the US. What do they all have in common? They are all independent school districts with one high school and their feeder schools. All are less than 9,000 students large. Most are under 5,000 students. School district size is one place where larger does not mean better. It is where very local control works best. That is not county wide 50,000-100000 + school districts with Broad superintents who stay three years then move on for a payday larger than the VP and congress for 70% or less graduation rates.

We need to change the georgia constitution and get rid of the extra layers of administration in the large public schools. They add no value only adult jobs and costs.

Those who have only lived in this system and have never gone to an independent school district in the NE, Midwest or the other 80% of the country are so sadly missing what a real high school experience is. What it is like when your high school is part of the community. I am so saddened by the lack of community that our high schools are.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@anothercomment We do have places here in Georgia where there are small, community school districts.  Unfortunately, many folks think bigger is better, and do not look at the research done by reputable policy wonks.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Wascatlady @anothercomment Several of these smaller, city systems produced higher "proficiency and above" rates on the 2015 Georgia Milestones Assessment, too.

jaggar1
jaggar1

@anothercomment I agree 100%. I am from Michigan where we had two high schools. two middle schools. and three elementary schools. Our graduating class was 120 people, and it is still a top district in the US. In addition, they had a skill center for students who did not want to attend college and had a certified trade when they graduated. Georgia is so off the mark that is is disgusting. The politicians don't care about education in Georgia. It is ironic that the governors wife is a former educator and is married to the person who is making it worse. Cobb County Schools needs to divide the county into four independent districts. They just added more top heavy executives who make no impact on the classroom but all make over $100,000 per year! How embarrassing!

Mirva
Mirva

This new “reform” movement is certainly going to be signed by Deal, and is certainly going to fail- let’s see if we can predict the ways…

1.There is not enough in the budget to pay contracted teachers.  There is fancy talk about how current teachers will be grandfathered in to the current system, but in order for that to happen, it will take years for the state to see savings.  The current teachers will stay with the current system, and only the new teachers will shafted.  And who would be so stupid as to start a career in education after this?

2.The new system wants to tie teacher pay to performance.  It sounds so good- pay good teachers more.  But let’s see, good scores tend to be from white and Asian students, who tend to be in suburban schools that are staffed by mostly white teachers.  The hard to staff positions (STEM) are to a large extent male teachers.  So, we will have white male (or at least white teachers)  teachers making more than black female teachers.  Yeah, that is going go over well.

3.This will certainly lead to a teacher shortage, there is one currently.  People outside of education (you know, the ones who think they know everything) don’t know the number of new teachers on provisional certificates  because schools could not staff.  These are even in the good schools in non hard to staff positions, social studies and English. There are many older (baby boomers) retiring and so few new teachers coming into the field.  Why would they?  I actively discourage anyone from entering the field. 

4.When the teacher shortage happens, the state will lessen the teacher certification, allowing any yahoo to enter the classroom.  This will lead to poor results and unhappy parents who will leave the public schools.  This is happening right now in Kansas.  This is an open warfare on public education.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Gov. Cuomo in NY just backdown on the milestowns portion of the teacher rating in NY from 50% to 0%. Per a NY times headline today. Of course he is a Dem and thank GOD NY teachers have a UNION.

I thank GOD every day that I had UNION NY State teachers for 7-12 when I went to Public School after Catholic School.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Mirva I think that a teacher shortage is part of the plan. Look for the hiring of non-certified education "specialists" to "supervise" students' online coursework that makes big bucks for the online provider and upper management.

jaggar1
jaggar1

@Mirva Do you remember when they allowed people with business degrees to get a provision and teach about 14 years ago? They all left after a couple of years, because they said the pay and work load were ridiculous. Georgia treats their teachers and all other staff like crap. They are at the bottom of the barrel and this won't help. Deal wants public education to fail, so he and his crooks can turn it into a for profit business. Look at Zuckerberg and Gates who think school should be run like a business. Good luck to Georgia parents. I am glad my son is out of school.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Why can't these fools just look at what works in all the top Private schools! Besides mandatory parent participation, there is a little thing called Prefirst!

What is Prefirst! Well the hidden little secret is yes the Privates do test for admission to Kindergarten, but they all also take Legacies, the very wealthy and connected, and some take siblings. Then there are always those children who have been coached up to take the entrance exams, but can't perform beyond that. So the top Privates and all the Catholic elementary have a grade call Pre-1st. Approximately 25% to 33% of the Kindergarten class will not proceed directly to First grade but will spend a year in Pre-First. This is where they have a smaller class than the 17-22 class size of the Private or Catholic Kindergarten size, . They are put in here for maturity isusses, academic, social or physical. Then the next year they are merged back with the next first grade class. Many of these kids then go on to be top students with their new class.

These are all kids that had involved and active parents in the first place. For the most part they are not kids who did not have a summer birthday right before the cut off. They all were completely fluent in English before starting class in Kindergarten even if English was not a first language.

Parents are told straight up at initial open house that Prefirst is a possibility. I have seen parents of multiples in particular try to fight the policy. They were simply told sorry, Mary or Johnny isn't ready but the twin or other multiple is, if you don't agree then you are free to go to Public School.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I would like to know this : how many students who are "socially promoted" actually get back up to speed and graduate with a proper education.

class80olddog
class80olddog

Let us say we up our spending to $20000 per student, but use all but $4000 in the central office. Will that improve education?

class80olddog
class80olddog

I noticed that no one could (or would) answer my question about where all the money goes now.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog


I agree. The legislature should pass a law that forces all school systems that get public money to provide a yearly accounting online of exactly where every penny goes so taxpayers can make informed choices about educational spending. 

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

APS spends more per student than any other school district in the state yet the dumbest students in the state call APS home.  Spending more money is never the solution.

class80olddog
class80olddog

You can spend as little or as much as you want and it will not matter because the problem is not money- it is bad students and parents

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@MiltonMan Maybe we should spend less? How about $1K per student? Will that do it? 


This forum is free yet we have the dumbest posters in the state.


class80olddog
class80olddog

"This forum is free yet we have the dumbest posters in the state."

I agree, but my list would be totally different than yours.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@class80olddog Uninterested students and parents are a part of the problem but they are not the problem. Self-absorbed educrats,  their minions, and myopic citizens don't help the cause of first-rate educational opportunities for all.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Haha. Gifted kids get more money than low income kids. Is there a slight possibility that most gifted kids have higher household incomes and more educated parents than most kids? So, higher IQ, higher household income, and more highly educated parents necessitates a need for higher school funding for gifted kids?


What about legislators children(don't call them gifted; call them contributed)? Those contributed kids should get more money than gifted kids, shouldn't they?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Follow the money.


Money is attached to student to be removed by school system. This whole plan is pretty much a bonanza for charter schools and online curriculum providers.


Waiver on class size.


Waiver on class contact time.


Waiver on teacher pay scale.


Waiver on public reporting(charter schools only) of how the money is spent.


Lots of profit for the connected crowd.





CSpinks
CSpinks

@AvgGeorgian "Follow the money." An outstanding idea whose time has come. It's time for GaPubEd to come clean. Or better-put, it's time for GaPubEd to be cleansed by a comprehensive financial audit of all its operations from those in The Twin Towers to those in the smallest city system. Such an audit would be the work of competent, out-of-state auditors whose report would be delivered to the AJC for public dissemination.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So let's say that the annual salary of a teacher with benefits is $100k. Assume a classroom of 20 students. If you spent $9000 per student (state average), that would be $180k. That would mean you only spend 55% on the teaching. What is wrong with the math here? Where is all the money going, now?

gg74
gg74

Missing from all of this rhetoric of funding is the reality that taxpayers in Georgia pay some of the lowest rates in the country for public schools. Further in some counties, taxpayers are completely exempt from paying (see the senior exemption in some counties). Whereas on a micro level one can argue that more money does not equate to better education, until the citizens of this state in mass are willing to understand the full cost of a highly educated populace, Georgia will continue to languish among the worst in the nation in public education standards. Stir the pot anyway you wish - QBE, Opportunity District, Charter District, Status Quo, TKES/LKES, EOCs, tiered teacher pay, etc. the outcomes will always be the same, because there is just not enough  in the pot to begin with. Simply put, on a large scale, you get what you pay for.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Let's look at at the fact that standard tuttion for all of the ITP private school's high schools is $26,000 give or take $1,000. On top of that there is huge pressure to donate and 100% requirement to volunteer, even if it means sending your nanny to work your shift. Of course, writing a big enough check can relieve you from the hours. If you do not volunteer, pay full tuition or donate thousands of dollars, you simply don't get asked back. The $26k a year figure does not include new building, those are part of building fund raising campaigns. Note, Arthur Blank just bought a new one at Pace, where his younger kids attend.

I have seen even a big donors kid kicked out of the Catholic elementary school for behavior issues. Very mild by public school standard.

We have to go back to where in public school parent participation is mandatory! If you want you want your child in the best environment parents must participate. If children don't act properly and attempt to learn, not distrupt the learning environment then they must be removed to an alternate school. We can't have school ruined by a few for the majority as it is today.

The biggest problem is with the word adequate. What is the definition? Being 48th seems to be acceptable to Deal and the legislature, since they all send their children and grandchildren to the $26,000 per year private schools.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Woefully inadequate are the adjectives (second grade CCGPS) that come to mind.  HOW MUCH DOES it cost to actually provide education to a willing student from a middle class family?  We have no clue, and there was no attempt to figure it out.  Just "less than QBE says" for the answer.

class80olddog
class80olddog

How much? If the student has good parental participation -$2000 per year. If not good parents- infinity.

gapeach101
gapeach101

Thank you Mr. Martin. Simply knowing the "starting point" of the calculations is invaluable.  

athensareateacher
athensareateacher

Great points!  


The process of redesigning the funding formula needed more time, legitimate research and public input.  Members of the ERC urged the full committee to determine the true cost of educating Georgia's students and THEN create a funding formula. Committee members urged the ERC to slow down. That didn't happen.  Teachers begged for a voice in this process. That didn't happen either. 


Maybe I've been watching too many House of Cards episodes but I believe at least the general parameters for the proposed funding formula were developed behind closed doors before the first ERC meeting occurred.  The ERC's timeline was carefully designed to allow new legislation to be introduced in 2016 before the next round of elections.  


Educators guide decisions with the question, "What's best for students?"  I wish after reading the ERC recommendations that I had that same sense.  Instead, the words "special interest" creep into my thoughts.    




Bitcoined
Bitcoined

One only has to consider what working families would be willing to pay for if traditional public schools lived up to their promise.

Or showed any willingness to be more accountable. Or to embrace parental choice.

.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Then do you get the parents on board and help them help the kids before it's too late?

class80olddog
class80olddog

Failure to retain kids when they are clearly way below grade level

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog


And where is your proof that failure to retain indicates that the schools are not being accountable to the public. Is this what most of the public wants because when I met with parents of students who needed to be retained, a lot didn't want it to happen. Do private schools retain, do charter schools retain? Furthermore, the research proves that retention doesn't help. Your willingness to ignore research-based data is getting old. 


Here is an example of research that took 44 different studies on retention and found that holding students back did not benefit them in the long run. I agree that there are some students who, undoubtedly, would benefit but ultimately more would not. 


http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar08/vol65/num06/Grade-Retention.aspx

class80olddog
class80olddog

You ignore the part that says promoting them also does not help them. Some are ultimately un-savable

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@sneakpeakintoeducation @class80olddog I truly believe if retention were reinstated, we would have much fewer students who are candidates for retention.  What I mean is that many marginal students and their parents COULD do much better if the ante were upped.

class80olddog
class80olddog

There are not "parents" - there is baby momma and an anonymous sperm donor

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

I didn't see that in the study. The author clearly states that after following the students in 44 studies those who weren't retained did better than those who were.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog


Yes, we don't live in a perfect world. Thanks for finally acknowledging this. More research for you; the biggest indicators of a child's success are the parents' income and level of education. Some of our children bring baggage into the classroom that makes it difficult for them to overcome and be ready to learn. These can be numerous but to blame everyone with blanket, sweeping statements as you do suggests that you are either very uneducated about the blight of poverty or you are being willfully ignorant. You can't expect parents to help a child if they themselves don't have the education or access to materials. And yet, as you stated above, these children are the un-savable. It's a shame that you don't see their potential.

class80olddog
class80olddog

"For most students struggling to keep up, retention is not a satisfactory solution. Nor is promotion"

eulb
eulb

@class80olddog I was wondering where this quote came from and what the author proposed to do about the dilemma.  Is this your source? 
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar08/vol65/num06/Grade-Retention.aspx



"... If the goal of retention is to provide an opportunity for students to catch up, the quality and appropriateness of their academic experiences is likely to be the determining factor. After all, why should repeating the same experience produce a different result?


"What's One to Do?

"For most students struggling to keep up, retention is not a satisfactory solution. Nor is promotion. Juxtaposing the two as if these are the only options casts the debate in the wrong terms. The challenge is figuring out what it takes to help failing students catch up. Understanding why a particular student has fallen behind points to the best course of action.

"For many students, especially those who start school far behind their peers, intensive intervention, even prior to kindergarten, may be the best path to success. For students who are frequently absent, understanding and addressing the reasons for their absences might be the solution.

"Retention usually duplicates an entire year of schooling. Other options—such as summer school, before-school and after-school programs, or extra help during the school day—could provide equivalent extra time in more instructionally effective ways. Without early diagnosis and targeted intervention, struggling students are unlikely to catch up whether they are promoted or retained."

class80olddog
class80olddog

Yes that is the source. I have always advocated for summer school catch up (like they did in the sixties). It would also be ok if they were promoted into a remedial classroom. But that is not what schools do - they just socially promote until they are in the tenth grade and reading at a third grade level, then the student drops out. How is that better than retaining them and then them dropping out? Plus all the while they are in regular classrooms creating trouble because they are behind.