ATLANTA — Georgia’s school funding formula should be overhauled to steer more resources toward students from low-income families, educators, parents, and students from Chatham County told a state Senate study committee Friday.

The Senate formed the study committee this year to look for ways to modernize the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, which dates back to the 1980s.

“When this was originated, Ronald Reagan was president,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Dugan, R-Carrollton, the panel’s chairman, said at the start of the meeting, held on the campus of Savannah State University. “We need to look at the formula to make sure we’re putting the appropriate funding in the appropriate locations.”

In Georgia, funding of public education is about evenly divided between the state and local governments, Christian Barnard, senior policy analyst for the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based libertarian think tank, told committee members.

The local component of school funding comes primarily from property tax revenues, which vary greatly depending on the wealth of the community, Barnard said.

“We believe dollars need to be allocated fairly to all students,” he said.

Several speakers suggested Georgia adopt an “opportunity weight” system of funding public education, which dedicates additional funds to students living in poverty.

Fred Jones, senior director of public policy and advocacy for the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation, said 44 states have adopted opportunity weight funding of schools. He said such a system would help raise Georgia’s high school graduation rate.

“The circumstances a child is born into should not dictate his or her chances of success,” added Denise Grabowski, a member of the Savannah/Chatham Board of Education.

Grabowski complained that Savannah schools aren’t being given the funding needed to keep pace with changing technology. She said the system only has one tech support specialist for every 1,100 students.

She and other speakers also called for Georgia to make the state’s lottery-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten program mandatory.

“We absolutely know the importance of early childhood education to academic achievement and long-term success,” Grabowski said.

Other speakers said the schools need more bus drivers and counselors.

A series of Spanish-speaking parents and immigrant advocates spoke through an interpreter, asking for more Spanish-speaking teachers in the schools.

The study committee has until Dec. 1 to make recommendations.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.