Committee OKs school funding

ATLANTA --- A measure that would restore nearly $1.2 million in school funding for Columbia County unanimously passed the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday, with full House approval likely today.


The money is part of a $332.6 million spending plan covering extra expenses for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The new funding would patch Gov. Sonny Perdue's proposed cuts to a program intended to help school systems with low property values keep up with wealthier districts.

"We've heard from communities, we've heard from people all over the state to please stop cutting education," said House Appropriations Chairman Ben Harbin, R-Evans.

The $30.7 million needed for Columbia and 15 other counties will come from canceling funding for some lawmakers' pet projects and by using bond financing instead of cash to help pay for new buses.

The vote by the budget-writing panel virtually ensures the funding will get through the full House. But the spending measure still has to be approved by the Senate and signed by Mr. Perdue.

Mr. Perdue's cuts to funding for "equalization grants" would take effect in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. But the House committee said school districts should save the extra money in this year's budget and use it to patch up the hole next year.

The grants in question provide extra support for the 134 school districts with the lowest per capita property values. None of the money flows to the 46 systems with the highest property values.

Under Mr. Perdue's budget for fiscal 2009, school districts with higher personal income levels would receive less in equalization funding, a move the governor's office says targets the funds to counties with low-income families. But critics say the proposal ignores the fact that school funding comes largely from property taxes, which are unrelated to income.

Other than the education funding, more money for elder abuse investigators and a boost to the Meals on Wheels program, Mr. Perdue's budget is essentially unchanged, Mr. Harbin said.