Georgia’s Department of Education (GaDOE) wants lawmakers to change the current formula for school funding.
The Senate Study Committee on the Financial Efficiency Star Rating met Wednesday to discuss gaps in the state’s school rating program. The metric is used to determine each districts’ needs.
“It is sort of a system that does not really speak to how schools operate and how they support students,” said Tiffany Taylor, Deputy superintendent of GaDOE’s policy, flexibility and external affairs.
Georgia allocated $10.6 billion for K-12 education for fiscal 2020. The Financial Efficiency Star Rating (FESR) dictates how much money per student each school district receives based on its academic performance. Districts can earn between a one-half star and five stars.
Districts with five stars get the least amount of money per student, also known as Per Pupil Expenditure (PPE). The PPE is calculated by dividing the district's expenses by the number of students who register at the beginning of the school year.
The final ratings are ultimately determined by the combination of that and the state’s performance average.
For instance, Long County Schools has performed at an average of about 71 percent and has an average PPE of $7,343 with 3,582 students. The average PPE in Georgia is about $9,000. The district received a four-star ranking for 2018.
GaDOE wants the state to eliminate the FESR process. Some lawmakers believe it puts smaller districts in jeopardy.
Sen. Emmanuel Jones said Georgia should not “force rank” schools because the FESR does not reflect the true performance of every district.
“A lot of superintendents that have high graduation rates, good scores from their students are in a smaller school system … they don’t have 100,000 students,” Jones said. “They’ll never make it to a five-star rating.”
Decatur Public Schools had a PPE of $8,638 in 2018 with an academic average of 69 percent. It received a three-star rating.
Jones added that districts use the ratings to promote the performance of the schools, which could in turn increase enrollment. Districts with lower ratings will find themselves on the flip side.
He believes the average parent will choose a school with the highest number.
“The public doesn’t know,” Jones said.
Senate researchers said that Georgia is the only state that uses the metric to allocate funds.
Texas’ School Financial Integrity Rating System is similar, but it compares schools that are equal in size.
Sen. Jesse Stone recommended “tweaking” the rating process to allocate more for schools with a higher population of special-needs students or those who receive reduced lunch.
Taylor said although school rankings are pivotal, the current process is ineffective.
“I do want to be clear that we are not trying to eliminate accountability for schools as it relates to the funding and providing the information to taxpayers,” she said.
The committee plans to report its findings to the legislature by Dec. 1.