By State Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex)
Low-income Georgian students are lagging behind, and state lawmakers have an opportunity and a responsibility to do something about it. Georgia is one of only six states that does not provide additional funding for students living in poverty, and the failure of our lawmakers to act is reflected in student outcomes. Georgia recently ranked 49th among all states and the District of Columbia based on the difference between low-income students’ scores on state tests and those of high-income students. It was for this reason that I drafted House Bill 10, a bill to create the state’s first “opportunity weighting” grant to give schools the resources to educate poor students according to high quality standards of our state. House Bill 10 has also not been heard for the past two years, but my colleagues and I plan to reintroduce this bill in the next Parliament because of our commitment to these children.
The idea of adding funding for economically disadvantaged students is not really new, nor revolutionary. Almost all states provide this type of funding and generally have bipartisan support. In fact, former Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission recommended adding this funding opportunity in 2015. The need for opportunity weight has been exacerbated by ongoing budget cuts to state education over the past two decades. This year’s budget reinstated major cuts to schools, but still lacks critical investments to improve the success and achievement of Georgian students. The majority party in the General Assembly even recognizes the need to re-evaluate the state funding formula. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed Senate Resolution 650 to create a Senate review committee to review the state’s education funding formula. The study committee held its first meeting last month; the next one is scheduled for September 16. Lawmakers should take this opportunity to explore a weight of opportunity.
Currently, our state’s elementary teachers manage overcrowded classrooms while using the cheapest curriculum their districts can afford. Some of these same schools have only about one counselor for every 400 students and are fortunate to have a nurse on site. In Georgia’s “black belt,” which is the lane of rural counties with a high concentration of black students and students living in poverty, students rarely have the opportunity to take advanced level (AP) courses. Additionally, 15 black belt school districts did not have a single student who took an AP course in 2018. If lawmakers continue this course, these districts will continue to be far less prepared and equipped to teach AP curriculum. quality and lack sufficient teachers and schools. support staff.
As school districts struggle to recruit and retain quality educators, it is critical that state leaders take action to ensure that students from all economic backgrounds receive a quality education in our state. Adding opportunity weight to Georgia’s school funding formula would mean schools could hire more teachers and reduce turnover in areas where teachers are burned out due to large class sizes. Teacher attrition is highest in majority-black school districts and those that serve large numbers of students living in poverty. This was partly caused by the lack of resources and the quality of teacher compensation in these districts. Smaller class sizes have the added benefit of allowing teachers to provide more individual attention to their students who need more support. Opportunity weight would allow districts to provide a stronger curriculum for their students, which would improve the quality of learning in communities that have been starved by being forced to teach the bare minimum due to funding limit.
Additionally, an opportunity weight could also complement school support staff like counselors and nurses. Several studies show that having a sufficient number of school counselors leads to positive outcomes for low-income students, students who have learned English as a second language, and children exhibiting aggressive behavior or actions associated with depression. Hiring additional counselors has also proven to be financially practical, as it is more cost-effective than alternative policies and responses to address students’ socio-emotional needs.
With a record surplus in Georgia’s fiscal reserves, there is a clear opportunity to take action to help the state’s most vulnerable scholars. I hope that as a state, we will carefully consider the current needs of Georgian students living in poverty and take action during the session to provide the resources they deserve.
Representative Sandra Scott represents the citizens of District 76, which includes parts of Clayton and Henry counties. She was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves on the committees of Defense and Veterans Affairs, Human Relations and Aging, Legislative and Congressional Redistribution, Science and Technology. and special rules.