Rural schools may be shorted

ATLANTA --- A rule requiring school districts to spend 65 percent of their funding on classroom expenses could gain approval from the State Board of Education today, but likely without a provision that would make it easier for rural systems to deal with the measure.


The board has to approve the rule, or one similar to it, under a bill passed last year by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue. It requires school systems to devote almost two-thirds of their funding to classroom spending, including teacher salaries, school supplies and classes in music and art. Food, transportation, administration and library expenses are among the costs that can't be covered.

Under the draft supported by State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox, a school system would be able to request a waiver of the rule if it exceeded the state average in one of four categories: the percentage of schools meeting federal education standards; graduation rates; SAT scores; and attendance.

Mrs. Cox said the waiver for attendance is meant to help out rural school districts that have to spend more than usual just to get students to class.

"We included the attendance criterion because one of the things that we recognize ... (is that there) are very large rural counties that have a very large bill for transportation," she said.

But board members, with the support of Mr. Perdue, are considering striking the attendance category. Several say it doesn't meet the law's requirement that waivers be granted to schools whose students are doing well academically.

"When you look at the language, it talks about academic performance measurements," said board member Brad Bryant.

Mrs. Cox defended using the measurement on academic grounds.

"Attendance, we know, is linked to achievement," she said.

Mrs. Cox indicated that Mr. Perdue had pushed for the change.

A Perdue spokesman confirmed that the Governor's Office of Student Achievement did ask the Department of Education to reconsider the attendance standard.

"When Gov. Perdue first proposed the 65 percent legislation, he said the idea behind the bill is to encourage and reward student achievement," press secretary Bert Brantley said.

"While attendance is clearly an important step towards achievement, it is not by itself a measure of student performance."

At least one education group skeptical of the standard when it passed through the Legislature supports the attendance waiver.

Herb Garrett, the executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said the more criteria schools have to obtain waivers, the better.

If the board votes to rewrite the rule without the attendance waiver, it would have to wait for another public hearing before it could adopt the rule.

If it goes forward with the current draft, the rule would be adopted today.