By Fred Jones, SEF Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
In mid-September, I stood at a podium at Savannah State University to ask the Georgia Senate Study Committee to improve the state’s school funding system, make funding more equitable and investing more in targeted ways to improve our public schools. (See my full statement below.)
SEF joins other student advocates to ask the state to implement an “opportunity weight,” a mechanism to provide funding to schools based on the number of students living in poverty.
Why does Georgia need to make a change? Don’t many schools have record-high amounts of funding because of the federal relief aid?
Because times have changed. Students’ needs have evolved, too.
Georgia hasn’t fully updated its school funding formula in more than three decades. The formula simply does not account for the academic and social needs of learners today. Georgia is also one of only six states not dedicating additional per-pupil funding for students from low-income families.
Georgia does provide some additional funds to serve students beyond the funding formula, but they’re not nearly enough. Our K-12 education system should prepare students to be accepted into Georgia’s flagship university or enter the workforce at a salary high enough to support a middle-class family.
We can do better. Georgia has the resources and support from the public to make these changes.
I’m encouraged to see Georgia lawmakers of various viewpoints seriously studying the mechanics of Georgia’s funding system.
Between now and the start of the legislative term in January, SEF and other advocates will be meeting with state legislators, the governor’s office and other leaders about this issue.
If Georgia moves forward, how might additional funding for underserved students be used?
More students could benefit from high-quality pre-K programs, better reading and math instruction informed by the latest research, and the opportunity to take more advanced academic and career-oriented courses leading them into college.
Many students’ needs have only grown during the pandemic. More than ever, schools must have the resources to support the whole child by providing more school counselors and greater access to mental health and social services.
One of the Georgia Department of Education’s Vision 2020 goals is having every Georgia student proficient in reading by the end of third grade, and the end of fifth grade in math.
Yet the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement shows that less than 25% of elementary school students meet that goal.
Overall, Georgia ranks 33rd in the country in its total average per-pupil spending of about $11,000 per student, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia” the Georgia Constitution says.
Is education truly adequate for every student in Georgia? We believe there’s nothing adequate about just 75% percent of our young learners not meeting the state’s own academic goals. Is there anything adequate about providing half of the per-pupil funding amount compared to the top-funded states?
We’re encouraging legislators to add an “opportunity weight” to the state’s formula, providing schools more funds for each student they serve from low-income families. The change would lift Georgia into the company of 44 other states doing it already. Without this steady investment, Georgia will suffer long-term consequences and could eventually lose its ranking as the top state in the nation to do business.
Working together, I’m confident we can do great things for Georgia and provide every school with the resources they need to help students succeed.
REMARKS BY FRED JONES, SOUTHERN EDUCATION FOUNDATION, TO GEORGIA SENATE STUDY COMMITTEE:
3219 College Street
Savannah State University
Savannah, Georgia 31404
Mr. Chairman and members of the education funding Senate Study Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide public comments related to the future of Georgia’s school funding formula. My name is Fred Jones, and I’m the Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Southern Education Foundation, based in Atlanta, Georgia. I am here to voice my organization’s support for the state to implement an opportunity weight, which is a mechanism to provide funding to schools based on the number of students living in poverty.
It is no secret that money matters. In fact, increased financial investments matter most for students living in low-income families who, on average, have access to fewer resources than their more affluent counterparts. Data also shows that sufficient per-pupil spending can increase graduation rates and adult wages as well as eliminate the education attainment gap between low-income students and students living in wealthier households.
We also know that one of the State Department of Education’s Vision 2020 goals includes an objective to have every Georgia child on a pathway to proficiency in reading by the end of third grade and in math by the end of fifth grade. It’s 2022, and GOSA shows that less than 25 percent of elementary school students meet the department’s goals. And according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgia’s per-pupil expenditure is just over $11k per student, ranking 33rd in the country.
The Georgia Constitution reads, “The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.” I ask the committee, is there anything adequate about 75% percent of our young learners not meeting the academic goals set out by the state? Is there anything adequate about providing half of the per-pupil funding amount compared to the top-funded states?
There is a solution. We encourage this study committee to recommend the implementation of an opportunity weight and have Georgia join the 44 other states already implementing this funding approach. If the opportunity weight is not adopted, there could be a cascade of negative impacts, including Georgia eventually losing its ranking as the top state to do business. Thank you for the opportunity to provide public comments.
Southern Education Foundation