The Georgia Department of Education is asking for legislators to provide more transportation funding to rural school districts.
State Superintendent Richard Woods said Friday that a larger share of state funding school districts receive will ease the financial strain on rural communities. Statewide, busing costs soared the last two decades, with local districts covering $945 million of nearly $1.1 billion in expenses during the last school year.
Finding more money to offset those costs might require changes to the state’s complex Quality Basic Education formula, the state’s public education funding system.
“We’re looking at making some adjustments in the QBE formula, the potential to look at some tweaks, not a general overhaul,” Woods said during his presentation Friday at a meeting of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education focused on 2020 legislative priorities.
More than 100 of 108 school superintendents said inadequate transportation funding is a significant problem in a 2019 survey by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Transportation costs can fall harder on rural districts with the fixed expenses to maintain buses while transporting fewer students over more miles than more densely populated districts.
Lawmakers are set to convene today for the new legislative session, with the state’s budget cuts taking center stage.
The majority of the education department’s formula-driven $10.6 billion budget is exempt from Gov. Brian Kemp’s order that state agencies cut 4% in this year’s budget and 6% for next year.
This year’s K-12 budget was the second year in a row that legislators fully funded the QBE formula, along with $770 milion for teacher pay raises, enrollment growth and other salary increases. The formula was underfunded by as much as $1 billion in the years following the Great Recession.
The partnership released its Top Ten Issues report Friday that says that school districts took on a larger share of expenses since 2012 when lawmakers stopped contributing to health insurance for bus drivers, custodians and some other non-teaching staff positions.