As far as widespread funding increases, the 18-member commission took no formal action. For instance, it didn’t discuss teacher salaries, class size or the shortened school year many districts use to stretch tight budgets.
“We all hope the economy is going to improve and we’ll be able to put more money into education,” said Commission Co-Chairman Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican who also chairs the Senate Education Committee.
The panel formally adopted recommendations it had discussed in prior meetings, including boosting funding for teacher training, school buses, counselors and psychologists. It also recommended reducing state funding of central-office administrators in local districts to less than 1 percent of their costs and moving that $25 million to fund electronic blackboards, computers and other technology over the next three years.
However, Scott Austensen, deputy state superintendent of schools for finance, downplayed the impact of the administrative-funding change since the districts are using the state money for administration on teachers’ unemployment and workers-compensation premiums.
“Because of austerity (cuts to state funding) there really isn’t $25 million to redirect, so we should be managing the expectations over the three years ... Until we’re able to put the additional funds in, we have to realize it will not free up any $25 million,” he said.
State Superintendent John Barge said, “I was prepared to vote against this.”
He changed his mind because the recommendation also calls for the legislature to ratchet up funding for technology by $26 million, beginning two years from now and to cushion the transition for the 18 smallest districts.
Most of the commission’s relatively modest requests for additional funding to the state’s $7 billion annual outlay for public schools are supposed to begin in the fiscal year that starts July 2014 and rise the following year.
Whether they’re funded at all depends on the economy and the legislature’s willingness, as well as whoever is elected governor in 2014.
“Everything is subject to funding,” said Rep. Brooks Coleman, a Duluth Republican who co-chairs the commission and heads the House Education Committee.
“Everything is subject to funding,” repeated Millar.
The commission delivers its recommendations to Gov. Nathan Deal next week and to the General Assembly in January. It plans to continue examining a few funding details in the meantime as well as asking Deal to appoint a new commission to look into other aspects that were too complicated to resolve before the year-end deadline.