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June 21, 2014

State Rep. Jay Roberts column: Education funding: The other side of the story

— After receiving an e-mail from The Tifton Gazette and communication from other constituents from Tift County, I decided that I needed to write an editorial on school funding.  

First, let me say that the decision by the school board to raise the millage rate is not my decision, as that is a decision that the school board has to make as to what is best for the school district.  Due to the millage rate increase, many questions have been raised, as well as comments made regarding the state’s funding of education, including in recent articles in The Gazette.  I would like to use this editorial to give the other side of the issue concerning the state’s funding of education.  

This past legislation session, the Georgia General Assembly put 70 percent of all new revenue into education.  Year after year, education continues to be the largest portion of the state budget.  This year alone, education makes up 54 percent of our total state expenditures.  These two numbers alone should show the commitment that we have as legislators to education in our state.  

In a recent article in The Gazette, many comments were made regarding the QBE Formula for Tift County School System referencing a cut of around $42 Million from FY2003-FY2015.  If you just look at the austerity numbers, then this statement would be correct.  However, you also have to look at the equalization money that was given back to the school as well as the categorical grants that have been given back to the school system.  If you take these numbers and add them back into the equation you will see a different picture.  

The numbers that I have received from the state Budget Office shows that if you take into account QBE being fully funded from 2003-15, then Tift County School System should have received over $495 million during this time.  By the way, the QBE formula has never been fully funded since the formula was put into place in 1985.  

Getting back to our numbers, when you subtract the Local Five Mill Share that is required by every school system in the state from the QBE formula number, then you are left with a little over $432 million that the state of Georgia and the General Assembly was responsible for funding from 2003-15.  However, if you add back the equalization money, the categorical grant money, and the ARRA money during the same period of time, the Tift County School System has received $446 million.  So when you do the math, if the state had fully funded QBE, minus the local 5 mill share, and that was all the money that they received, the Tift County School System actually received $13.8 million over and above what the QBE formula says that they should have received.

Now some may argue that Tift County is due the equalization money and I don’t disagree.  But you cannot talk about the austerity cuts without talking about the equalization money and the categorical grant money, because none of this money is guaranteed.  Austerity cuts are funding cuts in the state budget, but the equalization money and categorical grant money is money that is added into the state budget.  This money is not guaranteed unless we fund it and it could change from year to year as to the funding level.  Another item which effects the QBE formula is FTE counts, which is based on the number of students and this could change from year to year, changing the funding received from year to year as well.

The state’s portion of the Tift County School System budget is approximately 60.2 percent, which is above the state’s average of 51 percent.  As has been discussed, Tift County Schools receive equalization money, so it should also be noted that around 60 school systems in Georgia do not receive this funding.  So with all the information presented above, Tift County receives more funding from the state when compared to the state average.  Tift County receives funding that about 60 school systems do not and Tift County has received almost $14 million over and above what was required according the QBE formula minus their local 5 mill share.  

I believe that the above information shows that the state is committed to funding education and I can assure you that we will continue to try and put more money into education as revenues continue to increase.  Each school board has to take a look at their particular situation and make decisions.  You can look around the area and see schools that are not increasing millage rates and not furloughing teachers and see other schools that are doing both or one or the other.  This is a local decision.  As one of your state representatives, I believe that is my duty to make sure that all sides are heard.  I will say it again, I am not trying to second guess anyone for their decision.  

It has been my honor to serve Tift County in the Georgia House of Representatives.  Please feel free to contact me at any time.

You may contact state Rep. Jay Roberts at State Capitol 415, Atlanta, GA 30334 pr call 404-656-7153.

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Tift County head football coach John Reid.

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