Fri., January 17, 2014 7:00am (EST)

What Does $547 Million For Education Really Mean?
By Shauna Stuart
Updated: 3 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
During his State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal announced major new education spending. He proposed an additional $547 million in education funding.
During his State of the State address, Governor Nathan Deal announced major new education spending. He proposed an additional $547 million in education funding.
The General Assembly continued a third day of hearings Thursday morning after Governor Nathan Deal unveiled his 2015 budget proposal in his State of the State address this week.

The governor is asking state lawmakers to include an additional $547 million in education funding. The Department of Education has faced severe cuts over the last decade—so how much impact will these new dollars have?

GPB reporter Claire Simms has been following the budget process at the Capitol and spoke to Morning Edition host Joshua Stewart about how far the money can really go.

JOSHUA STEWART (HOST): So, what does this $547 million really mean?

CLAIRE SIMMS: Overall, people are excited—more money is always good. But according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute—the number is closer to $300 million dollars. Here’s why: there are simply more students in schools. According to Allen Essig with GBPI, about $150 million of that $547 million will just help schools pay for additional students. The other $300 million will be what schools have to work with.

And schools have been dealing with austerity cuts since 2003. State Schools Superintendent John Barge says in all, the Department of Education has dealt with more than $8 billion in austerity cuts.

JOSHUA: The one thing schools have had over the last 10 years of cuts is flexibility. Do they get the same sort of flexibility with the new money?

CLAIRE: The state did give schools the ability to choose how to cut their budgets. Some of them cut their school days to less than 180, some furloughed teachers. Now, they will have the flexibility to put this additional money toward what they think is most needed. Governor Deal would like school systems to restore instruction to 180 days and get rid of furlough days first. After that, the systems can apply any extra money to other areas.

JOSHUA: So bottom line, there’s still ground to make up.

CLAIRE: That’s right. The austerity cuts are about $1.1 billion per year. Alan Essig called this money “a down payment” on getting back to fully funding education. But, the important thing to keep in mind here is that this is significant money.

Chuck Clay is a former state Senator and a lobbyist for the Cobb County Schools and the Georgia Education Coalition, which is made up of 6 other large districts in the state. He says this will make a difference.

Clay says for those large systems he represents, this money could mean about $40 million dollars each—which will go a long way.

JOSHUA: GPB’s Claire Simms at the state Capitol. Thanks!