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Budget crisis delays funding formula revamp
Quality Basic Education plan noew 20 years old
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Georgia School Superintendents Association:

Georgia PTA:

Investing in Education Excellence:
ATLANTA (AP) - Work on revamping Georgia's 20-year-old education funding formula has come to a halt as the state deals with the worst fiscal crisis in decades.

The Investing in Educational Excellence task force was convened four years ago by Gov. Sonny Perdue after many said the Quality Basic Education formula was too clunky and no longer relevant to how schools operate, particularly in districts experiencing explosive enrollment growth.

Yet the group hasn't met in months, stymied by the state's $2.6 billion budget hole that has led to cuts, furloughs and layoffs in every state agency.

"We recognize right now the state is in uncharted waters and their attention needs to be focused on those efforts," task force chairman Dean Alford said.

The formula was created in 1985 to allocate state money to schools, but many of the ratios used are outdated. For example, the formula plans for one school counselor for every 624 middle school students when the national average is one for every 475 and the recommended rate is one for every 250.

The formula also uses enrollment numbers that are a year old rather than trying to forecast how large a school's student body will be. In addition, the formula doesn't plan for technology costs, the price of maintaining newer facilities and the rising cost of busing students.

"The governor doesn't believe the formula is an effective way to do funding in the state," said Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley.

But education advocates say a new formula would produce funding recommendations even higher than what the current calculation generates, which is why budget officials have stopped the task force's work.

"That fiscal reality hit home earlier this year with the leadership in the state," said Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association. "I just don't think they can roll something out that clearly would result in a massive new outlay of money and expect that to be warmly received in the fiscal crisis we're in."

Schools have rarely received all the funding recommended by the formula because the state isn't legally obligated to match the calculation. Although the state typically increases education funding each year - with $6.2 billion budgeted for this year - schools have received more than $1 billion less than what the formula called for in the past six years, according to state documents.

Even when the state's economy was healthy, schools received between $100 million and $300 million less than they needed each year.

Education experts worry that trend won't stop, even if the formula changes.

"When you have an economic situation that is negative, it makes it even more difficult to pull rabbits out of a hat," said Sally FitzGerald, head of education policy for the Georgia PTA.

The task force drew criticism in January 2007 from education experts who said the group was taking too long. More than a year later, the state still doesn't have a replacement for the Quality Basic Education formula as schools struggle with empty coffers.

Last year, a task force recommendation that schools should have more say over how to spend state funding became law, creating "flexibility contracts" between the state and districts.

The agreements give districts freedom from state requirements in areas such as class sizes and teacher pay in exchange for promises that students will perform better than required under federal No Child Left Behind standards.

So far, Gwinnett County, the state's largest district, has entered into one of the contracts. Forsyth County has also expressed interest. That measure was the first step toward creating a cost model for school districts, Alford said.

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