Recently, we have discussed what to do with a surplus in the Georgia budget. Some have argued that it is time to spend money in areas like education that have been starved for funds in prior periods. Others say that a surplus provides an opportunity to provide tax relief to Georgia’s taxpayers.
While Georgia has an obligation under our state’s constitution to fund “adequate public education,” it has often failed to fully fund its own Quality Basic Education Formula (QBE). The state has provided a detailed formula that accounts for the number of students, teachers, buses, and every other option. The result is the expected cost of educating the enrolled students in a school system.
The local “fair share” of 5 property tax millage points is subtracted from the state funds as the expected contribution of the local community. The remainder should be the state’s obligation for funding public education in that community.
However, like all budgets, when the State rolls up its individual budgets, legislators often find that there is more budget than funds. In this case, all budgets are cut to make the numbers work. In those cases, the detailed calculation of adequate education becomes more idyllic as cuts are made to make the numbers work. Waivers for the minimum days of school or maximum class size are used to make the numbers work.
This is even more troubling when you consider that in some years of “revenue shortfall” the Governor and Legislature have provided sales tax holidays, where sales tax is waived, even though teachers were given furlough days in the same year.
Some argue that we can not spend enough on public education. I disagree. While Georgia must meet its constitutional responsibility to fund “adequate public education,” our school systems must also be wise in its expenditures, managing overhead costs. Our investment should be a beacon of hope for our students and not just a bonfire of public money.
I have argued and continue to argue that quality public education is a conservative value which must be protected. The current surplus must be placed in reserve to supplement years when there are not enough funds.
While it is not as showy as a new fleet as eco-friendly school buses may be, however, the consistent and reliable funding of basic public education in Georgia will show results.
[Neil Sullivan is a finance/accounting executive and CPA. He has lived in Peachtree City over 20 years with his wife Jennifer, a Fayette County History teacher and son Jackson, a sophomore at Erskine College. He has been active in public school related issues in Fayette County, leading three E-SPLOST initiatives as chairman of Fayette Citizens for Children. He has appeared previously on these pages in letters to the editor.]