Gov. Nathan Deal

Education “reform” in Georgia would cost more, panel finds

Education reform in Georgia won’t come cheap, according to the committee charged with recommending a new way to distribute state tax dollars for public education.

Gov. Nathan Deal empanelled an Education Reform Commission to recommend a complete overhaul of the state’s educational system. One committee, charged with re-writing the decades-old formula used to calculate how much state money goes to each school district, learned Wednesday that their preliminary proposals would exceed the current budget by a quarter billion dollars.

It’s a tiny percentage of the state’s overall annual spending, which runs into the billions, but it’s still $243 million, said Charles Knapp, whom Deal appointed to chair both the full commission and its funding subcommittee. He said he didn’t like sending the governor a proposal with such a big deficit.

But fellow committee member Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it would be a “positive” thing to pledge any future growth in funding to the recommended changes.

“One of the mixed messages that we’ve been sending is that we’re going to make positive changes that you’re going to like without spending more money,” said Hill, R-Reidsville. “I don’t think anybody’s bought that.”

About a third of the extra cost would be incurred in a change to the way school districts are subsidized for teacher pay. There would be winners and losers among the districts, and those that would get less under the proposed formula would get a supplemental “hold harmless” amount in the early years. There would be a similar temporary supplement for districts that would lose money under other elements of the formula. And some of the ideas simply cost more, adding about $66 million.

These expenses don’t take into account the work of the other subcommittees, including one that has recommended higher pay and more slots for pre-kindergarten teachers, a proposal that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

Final proposals are due near year’s end, and much of this would require support of the Georgia General Assembly. Deal has said he will call a special joint legislative committee to review and act on the recommendations.

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