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Georgia fails to fairly fund Fayette schools

Recently there has been discussion about state funding for our schools and whether the state of Georgia has met its obligation to our excellent Fayette County Schools.

Given the Quality Basic Education formula (QBE), contained in the Georgia law, and other data, I submit that Georgia has failed to fairly fund our schools under its own law and has instead used taxes paid by Fayette County taxpayers to fund other schools.

First, the QBE is calculated based on certain demographic variables such as distribution of students among grades, special education needs, and other factors. After determining the QBE, each county is required to apply the 5 mill “Fair Share.”

This means that the amount of state funding is increased or decreased based on the value of property in a school district to reflect a minimum 5 mill local property tax.

Needless to say, the amount of funding due to our Fayette County schools is decreased in this calculation.

In fact, Fayette County received the least amount of state funds in FY2009 for schools with a population between 29,000 FTEs – 13,000 FTEs (high 5,366 – Carroll County, average 4,589, Fayette 3,899). The state-wide average funding per FTE was $4,315 (high $7,588, low 2,242).

If Fayette had received average funding, we would have received an additional $9.2 million dollars in FY 2009, enough to pay our teachers and keep our programs.

In fact, if Fayette had received average state funding per FTE for the past 10 years, Fayette County would have received an additional $50 million that would have kept our class sizes small AND provided meaningful tax relief.

Of the approximately 130 (72 percent of the school systems, 45 percent of the students) systems statewide that received higher than average state funds per FTE in FY2009, few if any shared the sacrifice of a 20 mill school tax rate that Fayette pays.

In a recent article in The Citizen, Mr. Scott Autensen, deputy state superintendent for finance, is quoted as saying that Fayette County property tax money is not taken to supplement other systems but rather the state uses income and sales tax money for that purpose.

Given that Fayette County has one of the highest per capital household incomes in the state, it is not unreasonable to extrapolate that a significant amount of the income and sales tax used to supplement other systems comes from Fayette County.

This funding situation is made worse by the failure of the state of Georgia to follow its own law under the QBE which requires the state to fully fund quality basic education.

In the past eight years, the state has cut our QBE funds earned under its own formula by $42 million with a possibility of up to $15 million to be cut in FY10. This amount is in addition to the $50 million above, but would also spare our teachers, provide a reserve, and set the basis for tax relief.

After contacting our state legislative delegation, two of our representatives did respond (thank you!) and reminded me that these are tough times. However, we have had some good years over the past eight. Why were our schools cut in those years also?

For many years, the Fayette County taxpayers have done whatever it took for our schools to remain excellent including voting for our e-SPLOST. Now our millage rate is maxed out, our costs are below state average, and now the muscle of our system through our programs is at risk even after we pay more than our “fair share” for education.

Neil Sullivan

Peachtree City, Ga.

NeilSullivan72@gmail.com

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