Budget Cuts Loom as Districts Work to Safely Reopen Schools
- State revenue expected to decline $2.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2021.
- $1 billion cut proposed for K-12 funding formula.
- Proposed salary increases for educators and state employees eliminated.
- Existing pre-kindergarten slots retained but planned expansion stopped.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved
of more than $2 billion to the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021), which are outlined in
House Bill 793
. The cuts reflect an anticipated decline of $2.6 billion in state revenue for FY 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic shutdown. Funding for the state’s K-12 Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula is slated for cut of $1 billion. State funding for the equalization formula is set to go up $32 million. Other programs funded through the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) are cut under the Senate’s proposed spending plan. The proposed cuts come at a time when districts are grappling with how to best support student learning and well-being in the wake of the ongoing pandemic as well as additional anticipated health and safety costs in the 2020-2021 school year.
QBE Cut but Equalization Preserved
QBE is the primary source of state funds for Georgia’s public school districts and makes up more than 90 percent of state dollars allocated to the GaDOE. The senate’s proposed budget includes $141 million for student enrollment growth as well as training and experience dollars for educators’ salaries, which are included in the QBE category. However, the QBE formula is cut by $1.04 billion. The Senate budget eliminates a nearly $25 million increase for school counselors approved by the House as well as the teacher salary increases proposed by Gov. Brian Kemp and the House.
All districts will be affected by the QBE cuts, but those that rely more heavily on state funds will likely face greater challenges coping with the funding loss. On average, state funds make up about 56 percent of districts’ total revenue. Twenty-five districts get 70 percent or more of their funds from the state. State money makes up 60 to 69 percent of total revenue in another 63 districts. With their greater reliance on state funds, these districts may experience more furlough days, position elimination and other spending reductions. Each district will determine how best to implement the cut based on its particular needs and circumstances.
Funding for the equalization program, which provides supplemental funds to districts with low property wealth, gets a $32 million increase in the Senate’s proposed budget. This increase is based on formula calculations.
Other education programs funded through the GaDOE are also cut under the Senate’s proposed budget. They include Agricultural Education, Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), school improvement, state schools, testing, and technology/career education. Funding for the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) will also be cut.
Pre-K Student Slots Protected
Funding for 84,000 existing pre-K student slots across the state is preserved in the Senate’s suggested spending plan. As in the K-12 budget, proposed salary increases for lead and assistant teachers are eliminated. Other additions offered by the House in its pre-pandemic budget proposal—such as raising the number of slots to 85,500 and adding behavioral support specialists—have also been rolled back.
The pre-k program is funded with lottery revenue, which also funds the HOPE financial aid programs. Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noted that lottery revenue has not declined though he cautioned that pre-k and HOPE costs are rising quickly.
Impact of Cuts
PAGE members provided feedback on the impact of proposed budget cuts
in a recent survey
. Though much uncertainty remains, most survey respondents expect furlough days and the elimination of vacant positions as their districts cope with the cuts. They flagged lost student learning, lack of access to school meals and increased financial hardship for educators as common effects of furloughs.
Next Steps in Budget Process
HB 793 now moves to the full Senate for a vote. Once approved, it will return to the House, which will review the Senate’s proposal and likely make adjustments. The Senate must agree to any changes the House seeks. The General Assembly must pass the FY 2021 budget by June 30.