None of the recommendations discussed by the State Education Finance Study Commission would alter teacher pay, class size or the length of the school year, officials said.
A few suggestions would cut what state taxpayers spend in specific categories, like ending funding for central-office staff to save approximately $20 million and trimming librarian funding by $8.6 million. That’s despite advocates for increased education who hoped every spending category would increase.
“Not all recommendations can have a plus sign,” said commission subcommittee chairman Kelly Henson, who is also the executive secretary of the Professional Standards Commission that oversees teacher certifications.
Several aspects of public education would benefit from a change in the 26-year-old state funding formula.
Increases over three years include:
• $52 million more for classroom computers and electronic blackboards
• $11 million more for teacher training
• $22 million more for buses and cameras to catch motorists who run bus stop signs
• $30 million more for school counselors
• $2.3 million more for psychologists
The commission’s assignment was to revise the per-student formula, which didn’t include school nurses, computers and elementary counselors when the General Assembly enacted it in 1985.
A previous commission spent two years making a similar study but issued no formal recommendations when it disbanded in 2006.
The current panel has been working for nearly two years, and it has decided not to make wholesale changes in the formula. Instead, it will merge the 19 funding categories into 11 that school districts have to apply for, but that change will be gradual and won’t affect the total of what the state spends on education.
“Lacking new money or the sky parting as far as new ideas, for us, at least, simplification was the one area, where we were working, that we could do,” said Sen. Jack Hill, a Reidsville Republican who chairs one of the commission subcommittees.
Hill also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and is aware that weak tax collections this year has left the state with little opportunity for so-called “new money.”
Much of what the commission examined has resulted in no recommendations so far because the members found the issues were so complex, such as funding for special education, how the state can order the closing of failing schools and further simplification of the formula.
“I can see that we’re going to have to have, conservatively, four or five (legislative) study committees going forward on some of this stuff,” said Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican who co-chairs the full commission. “This is an ongoing process.”