Georgia Education Deep Dive

Overview of Georgia’s K-12 Education Funding 

In 2018, Georgia lawmakers made history by passing a fully funded Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula (Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, 2018). Though the state fully funded QBE this past year, Georgia still does not fund K-12 education at a level that provides equitable access to high-quality instruction and support services. School districts across the state have seen steady cuts for close to two decades, with the largest cuts totaling $1 billion per year from 2010 to 2014 (Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, 2018).  The current FY 2019 budget does not make up for the previous years nor does it control for inflation or the exponentially rising student transportation costs.


Status of State Funding Formula

                                                                                                                                            Figure 1: Georgia QBE Funding vs. Actual Expenditure 2008-2019

The QBE funding formula is Georgia’s calculation for how much the state believes it costs to adequately educate each student. Georgia’s QBE formula was adopted unanimously by the state’s General Assembly in 1985 and is composed of 19 programs targeting grade levels K-12 and special education needs (Jester, 2018). This formula represents various aspects needed for instruction, such as teacher salary, building administration, educational specialists, school supplies, transportation, etc. 

Because the QBE formula has not been significantly updated since its original adoption over 30 years ago, it is difficult to say that the formula represents what is needed to educate a student in today’s Georgia considering inflation, changes in technology, and an increase in the percentage of low-income students in the K-12 school system. For example, as of 2013, 60% of Georgia’s public school students were considered low-income and low-income students became the majority in the state's public schools in 2007 (Southern Education Foundation, 2015).

Also, the current QBE continues the practice of funding districts (even if only partially) through local tax revenue, ensuring that wealthier districts receive more tax funding than poorer districts. Still, the QBE formula at least sets a minimum standard for the state to achieve. Sadly, until 2019, Georgia had failed to fully fund its QBE formula for more than a decade, denying its students the funding for what is deemed an adequate education.

*Figure 1 shows the disparity between funds promised based on the state’s QBE formula v. funds actually expended on education annually. The 2019 figures are based on estimated state allotment projections and will likely be adjusted upward at end of year. Source: Georgia Department of Education's QBE Reports (2008-2019). 


Per Pupil Expenditures 

With the state underfunding its QBE formula for so long, it is no surprise that less dollars were available for per-full-time equivalent student expenditure. Georgia’s average student expenditure has been decreasing since 2008, only returning to pre-recession expenditure levels in 2016 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Per Full Time Equivalent Total Expenditure   

Source: Georgia Department of Education's Expenditure Reports (2008-2017).


Unique Georgia Education Budget Stressors


Georgia’s investment in student transportation services has dramatically declined over time despite the percentage of low-income students enrolled in K-12 schools continuing to increase. For example, the state financed15 percent of districts’ student transportation costs in the 2016 budget year compared to 39 percent in 2000 and nearly 50 percent in 1996 (Suggs, 2018). Yet we see the percentage of low-income students expanding at a rate of 10% every 10 years. The State has not updated the student transportation or QBE formulas, leaving districts to absorb increasing transportation costs on their own.   



Figure 3: State vs. Local Transportation Funding

Source: Final Report of the Senate Study Committee on School Transportation, Nutrition and Support Personnel (2000). Georgia State Senate. Georgia Budget & Policy Institute analysis of District Expenditure Reports, fiscal years 2001, 2011 and 2017, and State Mid-term Allotment Sheets, fiscal years 2001, 2011 and 2017, Georgia Department of Education.


In addition to the state underfunding education for over 33 years, the budget has not accounted for the cost of inflation to educate a student, compounding Georgia’s disinvestment in education. 

Critical Issues In Georgia / Choice Expansion 

During this past decade, a faction of Georgia policymakers has contributed to the expansion of school choice, especially as it relates to the expansion of charter schools. In fact, charter schools have almost tripled their enrollment rates since the 2003-2004 school year (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Georgia Charter School Enrollment 2001-2014


In 2006, 24,000 students were enrolled in charter schools, but today, that number has escalated to just under 90,000, representing 5% of the overall Georgia student population. According to the Georgia Charter Schools Association, 47% of charter school students were black, 35% were white, and 8% were Latinx in the 2017 – 2018 school year. Black students are slightly overrepresented (47% vs. 36%) in charter schools than traditional public schools while white and Latinx students were underrepresented (35% vs. 40%) and (8% vs. 14%) respectively.   

The Georgia State Assembly has continued to legislate the expansion of charter schools and other versions of school choice even though over 90 percent of Georgia’s students are taught in traditional neighborhood schools (Figure 5).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (2005 - 2011). National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (2012 - 2014).


Figure 5: Georgia Student Enrollment 2005-2016

Source: National Center for Education Statistics' School and Agency Reports (2005-06, 2016-16).

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