A change in how state public school funds are handled has been discussed by the state Senate and has attracted criticism from local school officials who fear that the bill will create more problems than it solves.
Concerns about the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act were brought up during a Friday meeting between Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars, Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff Wilson, board chairman for Floyd County Schools Tony Daniel and board member for Rome City Schools Jill Fisher.
“It’s wrong for Georgia. It’s wrong for Georgia’s kids. It’s certainly wrong for public education,” Wilson said. “I think we just need to stand strong on that.”
The bill was being co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, and would allow the state money a public school receives for a student annually to be placed in a savings account for that student should they choose to leave the public school system provided they, and the school, meet certain requirements.
To understand how this works, it is important to first understand how the schools receive this money to begin with. The public schools get reviewed twice a year to determine how much money a school will receive, Wilson said. This is usually around $5,000 per student. Around 20 percent of that money is used to take care of that student, which is determined by something called the Quality Basic Education formula. The rest is put toward other school programs, Byars said. If a student leaves the school system, they would take with them the entire amount under this new bill, leaving the school system in the hole.
Hufstetler said during a phone interview Saturday that this bill was primarily designed for students with special needs. The bill lists 11 disabilities which would qualify a student to receive a savings account using the annual funds which would normally go to the school.
Byars questioned why this bill is being considered when the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act was passed in 2007, and it allows students with special needs direct funding from the State of Georgia without impacting local schools.