The state is hoping that a Tuesday hearing in Fulton County Superior Court will settle the 4-year-old lawsuit filed by the Consortium for Adequate School Funding, which, if won, could force the state to funnel more than $1 billion into education coffers.
The lawsuit claims that small, poor counties are treated unfairly because they do not raise enough money from local taxes to make up for cuts in state education spending.
"The state is putting more money in education, but the increase in state funds has not been nearly enough to keep up with the growth in enrollment, the effect of inflation and the needs of our students," said Joe Martin, the consortium's director. "Our systems have had to pick up the rest of the slack. Some systems can, and some systems can't."
But state officials say they are providing what the law requires and that school districts have the leeway to raise local property taxes or cut spending on nonacademic programs if they are in need of money. Defense lawyers argue that the consortium hasn't demonstrated that Georgia's lagging high school graduation rate and low test scores are directly linked to how the state funds schools.
The lawsuit was filed in September 2004 but attempts by the state to halt it landed the case in the Georgia Supreme Court the following year. The state's highest court ruled that the case could go forward.
Now the case is set to go to trial Oct. 21 unless Judge Elizabeth Long, at Tuesday's hearing, approves the state's final motion for dismissal.
The consortium is asking for a fairer way to determine funding for the state's rural districts and more money to provide services to students who need extra tutoring and academic help.
For example, the state allots $40.26 per student to cover the cost of all textbooks for the year.
"That will get you through almost to the Civil War if you're buying a history book," Martin said.
The state argues that it has increased education funding consistently, from $4,870 per pupil in 1996 to $8,428 last year.
"We believe facts don't back up their claims," said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue.
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