Georgia’s education system should be geared toward student achievement and the best education for each student’s diverse needs.
This means providing the maximum amount of choice to find the best educational setting for each student. We believe that students should be held to high standards, and that their curriculum should be rigorous, clear and measurable. Teachers, likewise, should be held to a high standard, and their training and compensation should attract and retain the best. Funding for education should be on a per child basis, not a district basis, so that money supports students directly.
As outlined in our Guide to the Issues, here are six things Georgia lawmakers can do to ensure every child has access to a high quality education.
1. Implement a student-centered funding model
Georgia’s current system of school finance, the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, achieves minimal transparency and flexibility.
Ideally, student-based budgeting would tie funding directly to students. The Education Reform Commission’s Funding Formula Committee proposed a formula to allocate funds based on student characteristics and recommended phasing out the top-down salary schedule for teachers.
The Committee’s recommendations could be strengthened by rolling funds still outside the student-based formula into the base per-pupil allotment, eliminating burdensome regulations, and pushing funds down from district to school level.
2. Fund charter schools equitably
Unequal funding often hinders Georgia’s public charter schools, which receive less funding and have more trouble funding facilities than traditional district public schools receive to educate the same students.
Since charter schools can be closed at any time for failure to meet the requirements of their charter, taxpayers should use caution when building new facilities. Nevertheless, all schools would benefit from annual, per-student facility funding. For charter schools, the funds could be used for underwriting construction, rental of an existing facility or new classrooms for growing schools. If a school is closed, the funding would stop and taxpayers would not be on the hook for unnecessary facilities.
3. Allow schools to move toward competency-based learning
Competency-based learning is a system of instruction where students advance to higher levels of learning as soon as they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place or pace.
Students should advance as they master the levels of learning. The pace and style will look different for different students, but the goal of allowing students the opportunity to “show what they know” in order to advance to more challenging material remains.
4. Shift away from top-down regulation and micro-management of schools to accountability based on choice and competition
We should empower Georgia’s educators to manage their classrooms and empower parents to choose the school they believe is best for their child. Government should ensure competition and choice, ensure fair access to financial resources and facilities, inform parents with relevant information, and step in to close persistently failing schools.
In a reformed model, competition and choice would ensure accountability for cost and quality. Equitable funding models assure that students have access to high-quality public and private schools. High-performing schools would easily replicate and persistently failing schools would close.
5. Expand the cap on contributions to the tuition tax credit scholarship
Georgia’s Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit Program raises student achievement and engagement and increases parental involvement and satisfaction. Demand for contributions is greater than the current number of students served, but the tax credits are restricted and it is typical for the entire amount to be claimed even when the cap is raised. Hundreds of Georgia students could have an opportunity for a better educational opportunity if more money were available.
6. Create Education Savings Accounts
Education savings accounts (ESA) encourage innovation and choice in education while creating incentives for better outcomes at lower costs. ESAs are managed by parents, supervised by the state and facilitated by restricted-use debit cards. They can be used on tuition if a parent chooses to change districts, or on other services like tutoring and online programs. Money also rolls over year to year, so it can be saved for future higher education. Low-income children could receive a tax credit scholarship on top of the ESA grant to better match their level of need. The stable funding of ESAs would offset the unpredictable funding of tuition tax credit scholarships, providing a predictable, yet flexible, funding model.