Funding the small niches is tricky for state budget writersBy WALTER C. JONES
Morris News Service
ATLANTA — Finding an appropriate formula for funding some of the small parts of public education was the challenge faced Tuesday by members of a state commission rewriting the 26-year-old equation used to spend nearly half the Georgia budget.
The part of the $7 billion education budget going to regional education service agencies and to homes for students with mental illness is tiny, but complicated. For instance, the homes for the mentally ill may treat about 1,000 students at any one time out of the state’s total student population of 1.6 million, but they have to rely on donations to cover nearly one-quarter of their expenses.
The state funds each of those categories with varying levels of federal and local assistance, but writing a formula for it all is tricky. Adding to the challenge is that the students in the homes typically stay less than one year, meaning they may not be counted in the semi-annual census used in the current funding formula, notes Emily Acker, director of the non-profit Youth Villages’ Douglasville campus.
Another niche program is the network of 16 regional service agencies that support school districts in multiple ways. Some offer group buying of supplies like paper and pencils, saving an estimated $1.6 million yearly. Others provide annual inspections for mildew, underground fuel tanks and playground safety so the districts don’t have to pay outside consultants. All of them offer training so teachers and principals don’t have to pay for it at colleges.
“We think we are poised to save Georgia money. We are doing it now,” said Sandy Addis, executive director of the Pioneer Regional Education Service Agency in Cleveland, Ga. “We’ve seldom found a task that needs to be done by a school system that we haven’t been able to do more efficiently.”
Commission Co-chairman Terry England asked Addis and his colleagues to prove it by coming up with other ways to save taxpayers money.
“If there’s a hindrance out there in state code we need to get out of the way, we need to know it,” said England, who is also chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a Republican from Auburn.
He said the commission is looking for find $23 million in annual savings from the administration of local school districts and the RESAs could be a help doing that.
The full commission was set to meet Wednesday for a day-long session to begin shaping the funding formula that hasn’t been revised in a quarter century.
The formula was written before computers, nurses, graduation coaches and elementary-school counselors became part of daily school life.