Friday, October 10, 2008

Partisan Politics & QBE Funding

So, the Democratic challengers for the two Georgia Senate seats representing Athens-Clarke County in the General Assembly assailed Bill Cowsert (District 46) and Ralph Hudgens (District 47) by trotting out the usual canard that Republican incumbents have slashed education funding by $1.5 billion. This line of attack remains as predictable as it is specious.

To reiterate, Georgia’s Quality Basic Education Act (QBE) dates from the 1980s and over the years most of the focus on QBE has concerned the state’s funding of public education. Specifically, QBE established an arcane and convoluted formula for determining the state’s annual contributions to local school systems. The economic downturn of earlier this decade predictably resulted in a reduction of state revenue, hence “austerity reductions” were introduced into QBE funding as a cost savings measure under Governor Roy Barnes.

Though the austerity reductions have continued in recent years under Governor Sonny Perdue, the actual cuts to funding lasted for two years only. Since then, the state’s QBE funding to local school systems has grown dramatically. The political demagoguery of the issue, however, has continued apace.

I will use the Clarke Count School District to illustrate the point. We will assume FY 2002, the fiscal year prior to the introduction of austerity reductions, as a baseline: FTE means “full time equivalent” student, that is to say the CCSD’s enrollment; QBE is the total of Quality Basic Education funds contributed by the state to the CCSD; and Austerity Reduction is the difference between QBE earnings according to the formula and the actual number of dollars contributed to the CCSD for each fiscal year indicated:

FY 2002
FTE 10,921
QBE $43,134,498
Austerity reduction $0
Per pupil $3949.68

FY 2003
FTE 10,989
QBE $42,394,751
Austerity reduction $1,119,072
Per pupil $3857.93

FY 2004
FTE 11,122
QBE $40,583,318
Austerity reduction $2,321,688
Per pupil $3648.92

FY 2005
FTE 11,258
QBE $41,258,951
Austerity reduction $2,719,741
Per pupil $3664.86

FY 2006
FTE 11,311
QBE $43,309,132
Austerity reduction $2,719,717
Per pupil $3828.94

FY 2007
FTE 11,415
QBE $46,766,651
Austerity reduction $1,342,765
Per pupil $4096.95

FY 2008
FTE 11,834
QBE $49,962,295
Austerity reduction $1,100,429
Per pupil $4221.93

FY 2009
FTE 11,834
QBE $52,148,003
Austerity Reduction $738,924
Per pupil $4406.63

As can be clearly seen, actual budget cuts occurred in FY 2003 and FY 2004 only. Despite the continuance of “austerity reductions,” though, QBE funding to the Clarke County School District has risen in every subsequent fiscal year in both absolute and per pupil terms. Even with austerity reductions totaling $12,062,336 over the period, the state’s QBE contributions to the Clarke County School District have increased by 20.90% in absolute terms, or 11.57% per pupil, from the FY 2002 baseline and 28.50% in absolute terms, or 20.77% per pupil, from the FY 2004 nadir (also note that the gap between "formula" and actual funding has decreased markedly in recent years). Explain to me again how such notable increases constitute “cuts” in any meaningful sense.

With the exception of per pupil and percentage calculations, which are mine, these figures are all taken from the Department of Education’s Mid Term System Allotment Sheets for the CCSD spanning the period FY 2002 through FY 2009. Note that the figures for FY 2008 are revised ever so slightly (upward, no less) from this earlier post on the basis of an amended report. The figures for FY 2009 do not reflect “mid term” numbers, as those earnings sheets are not yet available.

Admittedly, these figures deal with the CCSD only, but the larger point is applicable statewide.

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