Originally created 02/25/97

Lawmakers claim funding keeps kids in slow-learner classes



ATLANTA - After watching the state's tab for special assistance and remedial education grow $50 million in two years, Georgia lawmakers are vowing to reform a funding system they say rewards schools that keep children in slow-learner classes.

House Education Chairman DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, and four members of his committee are pushing legislation aimed at keeping schools from padding their enrollment numbers to get extra state money and determining whether the programs are worth the funding.

"The way the statute is drawn, no one ever gets remediated out of those programs," Mr. Porter said. "There is no incentive in the school systems to get students out of the programs.

"It is my suspicion we have more people in remedial programs than ought to be there because of the way the funding formula is done."

Gov. Zell Miller has ordered state auditors to look into systems reporting abnormally high enrollment in special assistance classes. The governor also has asked Attorney General Michael Bowers to determine if the state can get its money back from systems that received too much money for the program.

Morris News Service reported in December that enrollment in special instructional assistance and remedial programs jumped 21 percent during the 1995-96 school year.

Department of Education officials say special instructional and remedial numbers have continued to climb this school year.

While overall enrollment in the state's 1.3 million-student public school system grew by 50,000 students last year, a DOE report card showed 37,000 more children were in the special instructional and remedial programs.

Enrollment in remedial education grew from 108,501 in the 1994-95 school year to 132,102 in 1995-96, the report showed. Reported special instructional enrollment climbed from 65,754 to 80,008.

DOE budget figures put the cost of the special instructional and remedial programs at $126.7 million just two years ago. Last year, that figure rose to $149 million, and this year, $177 million.

Some state officials suspect systems are padding numbers by citing the number of children eligible for the programs, not necessarily those enrolled, or by retaining children in remedial classes they may not need.

Special instruction assistance is for developmentally delayed students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. Remedial education programs are in grades 2-5 and 9-12.

Mr. Porter's bill would change the funding formula to make clear the state will pay for students enrolled in the programs, rather than the children systems say are eligible. It also includes annual reporting requirements for school systems and a sunset provision making schools reapply for funding.

He said by the time the bill gets through the General Assembly, lawmakers hope to include incentives to move children out of special and instructional and remedial programs.

"This is one of many areas where we pay money using pre-determined formulas, and we neither demand nor receive any results," said Rep. Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys, a co-sponsor and member of the House Education Committee.

"A lot of us feel it's time we say, `if you're going to continue getting this money, which was intended to improve your educational programs, then show us how they've improved. If you aren't using the money to improve education, then we want it back.' "