School board members’ requests of state legislators can be summed up in two words: more money.
With the General Assembly set to start its annual 40-day session in January, the school board’s Government Relations Committee met last week with four members of Athens’ delegation to the Gold Dome—Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens) and Reps. Spencer Frye (D-Athens), Houston Gaines (R-Athens) and Marcus Wiedower (R-Watkinsville).
While expressing gratitude that for two years in a row the legislature has fully funded QBE—the formula used to decide how much state money local school systems get—the committee asked for adjustments to QBE that would net Clarke County additional funding, including tying the formula to inflation and accounting for the needs of districts with high poverty rates. “It does cost more money to educate a child who doesn’t have the home life clearly we would all like them to have,” committee chairman Greg Davis said. Children from low-income families are more likely to experience health problems and start kindergarten at a disadvantage, according to CCSD officials. “When students don’t have language exposure, they come in already behind,” Thomas said.
CCSD is also looking for the state to bear more of the burden of treating and transporting students. The state covers just 20% of the $1.3 million CCSD spends on nursing and 10% of the $10 million it spends on busing.
The district also wants to the state to raise the pay for parapros, who make about $16,000 a year, and equalize pre-K teachers’ pay with their K-12 counterparts. Pre-K teachers make an average of $8,000 less, which leads many of them to apply for K-12 positions, creating a shortage of experienced pre-K teachers, interim finance director Byron Schueneman told lawmakers.
Even Gov. Brian Kemp’s $3,000 raise for state-funded teachers wound up costing CCSD $850,000 to provide raises for locally funded teachers and non-teachers like custodians and bus drivers whose salaries aren’t covered by QBE. And Kemp wants the legislature to approve another $2,000 raise next year.
But state revenue is “not growing at the rate predicted,” Cowsert said, although he didn’t know why, and Kemp has ordered budget cuts. Legislators are also contemplating another 0.25% income tax cut; a similar cut last year cost the state about half a billion dollars in revenue. Any additional spending will require cuts somewhere else, Cowsert said. “It is a zero-sum game,” he said.
As for adjusting QBE, Cowsert said two governors have tried and failed. “All the people advocating for their different positions creates a real nightmare,” he said.
Other items on CCSD’s wish list include funding for mentoring to recruit and retain teachers; need-based college financial aid; requiring the Georgia Lottery to devote more revenue to the HOPE Scholarship program; and ending the ban on undocumented immigrants who grew up in Georgia from attending UGA and other top-tier public universities, as well as ending the practice of charging those students out-of-state tuition at open enrollment institutions like UNG.
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