PRIORITIES AND PRESSING STATE ISSUES AFFECTING P–12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION1
As reported by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI), issues impacting the financial condition of Georgia's K-12 and higher education systems were influenced by cost shifting, pre-kindergarten effectiveness, and tuition increases. Although Georgia's funding has improved, the state's funding is not sustaining Georgia's student needs. Over the past year, Georgia's student poverty levels (as defined by federal free and reduced-price lunch) have increased from 44% to 52%. Considering the state has shifted significant costs to the school districts in the areas of school bus driver and support staff health insurance, the effect of the increased funding is decreased.
In addition to increases in student poverty levels, Georgia's pre-kindergarten program has negatively affected Georgia budget priorities. In efforts to meet the quality standards recommended by the National Institute of Early Education Research, the governor's education reform commission decreased class sizes as well as increased the pay of lead and assistant teachers to improve effectiveness. These improvements reflect a $4,000 increase in the pre-kindergarten start-up fund that was not included in the 2017 budget.
Finally, state funding for full-time equivalent students in Georgia's University System is 50% less than Georgia invested in 2001. Consequently, the decline in funding has caused increases in tuition and institutional mergers. Within the last three years, institutional mergers included Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University, as well as the announcement of the merger between Albany State University and Darton State College.
CHANGES TO THE FUNDING FORMULA FOR P–12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION
According to the governor's budget, there is a recommended increase of [End Page 246] $141,658,055 to the total education budget. This increase includes, but is not limited to: $111,719,607 to K-12 funding; $5,143,657 to the University System of Georgia; and $52,169 to the Technical College System of Georgia. Contributions added to the K-12 funding formula were for mid-term adjustments for Quality Basic Education (QBE) growth, which included state charter school supplements and charter school grants. Higher education funding formula adjustments were for the establishment of the Georgia Center for Early language and literacy at Georgia College and State Universities.2
GBPI indicates that Georgia's K-12 public school students are receiving $166 million less than what was indicated in the state's 2017 funding formula. Although significant, this shortage is smaller than the previous year's deficit. Since 2003, the General Assembly has underfunded schools and cut more than $9 billion from its QBE formula.3
TRENDS IN STATE FUNDING FOR PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS
To amend previous eligibility requirements related to the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) grant, students who earn a high school diploma through certain dual credit course work will now be eligible for a HOPE grant. This amendment became active on July 1, 2017. These new provisions now allow: 1) students who completed a technical college degree program and all postsecondary academic training for any state, national, or industry certification/license and 2) students who completed at least two technical college certificates of credit programs in one specific career pathway opportunities to receive a HOPE grant.
Public Education Innovation Fund5
The Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation has been authorized to receive private donations to be used for grants to public schools, effective April 27, 2017. Funds received by the foundation will be awarded through a competitive grant process. Priority will be given to schools that have performed in the lowest 5% of schools in the state of Georgia, as assessed by the state-wide accountability system. In addition, organizations and individuals choosing to donate funds to the foundation will receive tax credits. It is important to emphasize Georgia's education tax credit programs extract up to $58 million dollars annually from [End Page 247] the state's general budget.
ALLOCATION OF THE STATE DOLLARS/PERCENT OF THE STATE'S BUDGET6
Georgia's total state funds are $24,345,494,024 for FY 2017 after the proposed changes...