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Gov. Nathan Deal has promised financially strapped local school districts that better days are ahead.
He started down that road last year. When running for re-election, he won legislative approval of a 2015 state budget that reduced the education austerity cut to $747 million, the lowest since 2009.
In his latest State of the State address, Deal said public education remains a budget priority.
"This year’s budget, coupled with my proposal for next year’s budget, represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education," he told a joint session of the state House and Senate on Jan. 14.
Those were sweet-sounding words to educators. But do they ring true?
PolitiFact Georgia decided to check now that state lawmakers have met for their annual 40-day session and approved a 2015 revised state budget, as well as a budget of about $21.8 billion for 2016.
We began our fact-check by contacting Jen Talaber, a Deal spokeswoman.
Talaber said the governor put more than $1.2 billion in additional money into K-12 education in the two budget cycles.
Specifically, the state Department of Education received $535,118,581 in the Fiscal 2015 budget, $139,242,817 in the 2015 amended budget and $557,647,889 in the 2016 budget, for a total of $1,232,009,287, she said.
A majority of the money is going to two big-ticket items: reducing the austerity cuts and covering annual student enrollment growth, state records show.
An austerity cut is the gap between what a district needs to provide a quality education to all its students, as determined by the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, and the amount of money the General Assembly and governor approve.
The first austerity cut was implemented in 2003, pre-Great Recession. In the years that have followed, the state’s 180 local districts have collectively been shortchanged about $8 billion, based on the formula.
As a result, many districts have raised class sizes, abandoned the traditional 180-day school calendar, dropped electives and furloughed staff in recent years.
Deal last year reduced the annual austerity cut -- which had hovered around $1 billion -- to $747 million by sending the districts collectively an additional $314 million.
For the upcoming fiscal year, he proposed and lawmakers approved giving them an additional $280 million to reduce the austerity cut to about $460 million. Those back-to-back austerity reductions absorbed about $594 million -- or nearly half of the $1.2 billion.
Student enrollment growth took another big share. For example, the 2015 amended state budget included $128.5 million to send to school districts for new students who enrolled last August.
"That doesn’t enable us to provide new services," said Claire Suggs an education policy analyst with the left-leaning Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, said of the enrollment payments. "We’re just keeping up."
In the recent General Assembly session, lawmakers agreed that 22,000 part-time school employees and their dependents should be able to remain on the State Health Benefit Plan, the state's health insurance program for teachers, retirees and state workers. Deal had proposed booting part-time school bus drivers and cafeteria workers off the coverage.
But both chambers said local school districts need to come up with $103 million more in the upcoming year to pay for coverage for the so-called non-certified school employees.
Our Ruling: The governor said in his State of the State address that the 2015 and 2016 state budgets represent an infusion of $1 billion in additional money for K-12 education.
To districts that, in 2014, collectively were living with $1 billion in austerity cuts and next year will see those reduced to about $460 billion, that probably does seem rejuvenating.
Deal’s statement is accurate, but also misleading.
A billion-plus additional dollars will be in the budget, but most of the money is going to cover routine growth in student enrollment and to reduce austerity cuts.
We rate the governor’s statement Half True.
"State of the State; Great challenges require great cooperation," Jan. 14, 2015
Email with Jen Talaber, spokesperson for Gov. Nathan Deal
Fiscal Year Budget 2015
Amended Fiscal Year 2015
Fiscal Year 2016, passed but not signed by the governor
Interview with Claire Suggs, senior education policy analyst, Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
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