It is a funding system everyone from the governor to lawmakers to superintendents to classroom teachers recognize is broken -- but how to fix it? It is the way our state government funds 180 school systems. The Quality Basic Education Act of 1986 outlined state funding formulas when it was enacted, and it has never been fully funded. Gov. Nathan Deal vowed during his re-election campaign that education reform would be one of his top priorities. He is living up to his promise.
He formed an Education Reform Commission similar to the process he used with the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform, but the timeline was truncated. The Education Reform Commission was supposed to return its report by August. Commission members on the Funding Committee asked the governor for more time, and earlier this month the governor, though disappointed, gave them a Dec. 18 deadline. The governor, according to a June 3 letter sent to the Funding Committee, will then create a special joint legislative committee to review all of the recommendations of the full committee.
One of the major sticking points so far is how to pay teachers. The questions being debated will have a far-reaching impact on the core of the reforms. Do you pay more for teachers with more seniority, more training or advanced degrees? And who decides: the state or local districts? In a meeting last Thursday, it was plain there is a difference of opinion among members. Some want to keep the present system and believe that if you destroy the present system, the impact, according to committee member Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, would be “crippling.”
Other members believe that without changing the way teachers are paid, no real change can occur. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Erin Hames, Deal’s education policy wonk, said, “if the group doesn’t recommend doing away with paying for training and experience, then ‘I’m not sure that we’re going to change anything about the way business is done.’” She also said research is “pretty clear” that teachers with advanced degrees do no better in the classroom. That last statement is disputed by a number of studies according to The Center for Public Education, which cites “What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future.” That report puts teaching at the core of reforming the nation’s schools.
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It’s clear the cause celebre of this effort so far is not how to increase the educational attainment of the state’s students, but how to save money. Of course the effort can also be spun another way -- that the governor is looking for the most cost-effective way of educating the state’s students. We will see as the committee continues to debate funding and other education issues.