Panel calls for more technology in Georgia schools
ATLANTA (AP) — A state commission has called for more spending on technology in Georgia schools, less money for central administration and more support for campus psychologists, nurses and counselors.
But in issuing its final recommendations Wednesday, the panel steered clear of wholesale changes to the complicated formula that determines how the state distributes billions of dollars to public and charter schools each year.
Georgia lawmakers created the Education Financing Study Commission in 2011, bringing together legislators, educators and civic leaders to examine Georgia's K-12 budget priorities.
Big-ticket proposals include a $20 million state grant program to expand technology infrastructure, plus more than $52 million in new spending on technology for classroom instruction. About $25 million of that would come from existing state allocations for local school systems' central offices. The money would be spread over three years, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
The non-binding recommendations now go to lawmakers and Gov. Nathan Deal. The General Assembly convenes in January.
State Sen. Fran Millar, an Atlanta Republican who led the commission, highlighted the final package's emphasis on technology.
Under the plan, the state education agency would design and run the grant program and it would be financed by bond proceeds. The money would pay for linking elementary and secondary schools on a central network to allow records sharing and more use of virtual classrooms and Web-based instruction. The idea could incorporate a similar system, PeachNet, that already links the state's colleges and universities.
The $52 million that includes transfers from central offices would be steered to technology for classroom instruction. The $26 million cut to local administration drew unanimous support Wednesday after producing heated conversations in the commission's final months of work.
Millar and co-chairman Brooks Coleman, a Republican House member from Duluth, cited criticisms that many system offices are "bloated." The commission said the money represents about 27 percent of state funding for system administration. Millar said school boards could avoid central office personnel cuts by using locally generated revenue, but the choice would be up to them.
The three-year outline calls for more than $27 million in additional spending on counselors, nurses and psychologists. The Legislature has already approved plans to invest in more nurses. And the state would offer an additional $22.5 million in support for busing costs for local and charter schools.
Perhaps as important as the recommended new spending is what the panel avoided.
The outline calls for streamlining how schools and specific programs — instruction for special need students, for example — are grouped to determine state support. Commission members said the idea is to simplify the education budgeting process.
But Millar also noted that the changes would create "winners and losers" among local systems. So the body added a so-called "hold harmless" provision that would keep any system from losing money if the changes become law. That could mean the overall policy merely adds to the overall K-12 bottom line, rather than simply redistribute within the system.
Given successive tight budgets and bleak forecasts into the future, that raises questions about whether lawmakers would be willing to entertain the changes at all.