Get Wonky: Education Reform

UPDATED 11.15.16

I just received the Georgia DOE’s QBE Reports, which can be found here. I wanted answers to two questions. First, was participation in the Free & Reduced Lunch Program a consideration in the weighting formula (it is not). Second, is participation in the F/RL program a good indication of school performance? My hypothesis was that was F/RL increased, graduation would decrease, as participation in that program would indicate higher-poverty, and therefore lower performing, schools.

The first thing I did was eliminate some of the outliers, the four or five schools with graduation rates in the 25% range and the schools with only partial data. That left me with 179 school systems, both counties and cities. Frustratingly, Georgia doesn’t record F/RL Participation if enrollment is above 95% or below 5%, so some of the most extreme examples are also impossible to quantify. That still left me with 149 schools, a pretty good sample size. Then, I just charted F/RL and graduation rate. Here’s what I found.


I’m a little discouraged. Obviously, there is a very slight correlation, but it isn’t the smoking gun I was hoping for. I’m going to keep looking and try to figure this thing out. In the meantime, I’m still working on the proposal to add personnel to schools. That should be coming soon.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE I think we can take it for granted, at this juncture, that we are failing our children.

Wonderful books, like Jonathan Kozol’s Shame of the Nation,  describe an increasingly segregated school system that is struggling to provide a quality education to low-income and minority students. Speaking to teachers and educators around the state, I hear again and again stories of despair and frustration. There is a sense that nothing they do matters; that nothing is helping, and everything is getting worse. Below is the Georgia superintendent’s response to a survey of 50,000 teachers:



Education isn’t an easy problem to solve, but given that Georgia will vote on Amendment 1 tomorrow, it’s a problem that is looming large in the current cultural consciousness. I started the Georgia Wonk because I wanted to get into the weeds of some of the thorniest issues, and I think education would be a great place to start.

My basic premise is that more money=better school performance. Over the next few days, I’m going to be looking at whether or not that’s true, and what the relationship is (if any) between school performance and demographics. To understand that, we need to get wonky. 

How Are Schools In Georgia Funded?

The Quality Basic Education Act, signed into law in 1985, set out a funding formula for Georgia schools. The amount of state funding a school received is calculated using the following formula:

QBE Earnings+Categorical Grants+/-Equalization+Adjustments for Special Factors. 

What Does That Mean?

The first part of that formula, the QBE Earnings, is defined as Costs-5 Mill Share. There are two types of Costs: Direct and Indirect Instructional Costs. Direct Instructional Costs “reflect the cost of putting a teacher in every classroom based upon the grade of the student…any special program in which the student is enrolled…and the teacher:pupil funding ratio.”

The teacher:pupil ratio uses the FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) numbers for the number of students. A student who requires no special services and attends school every day is considered to be one FTE. Every other type of student is assigned a higher number, reflecting the additional funds required for their education.  The teacher portion of the ratio comes from the state salary scale.

To better understand the FTE concept, Stan Jester has this handy chart:

Program FY2012 Weight FY2012 Value
Kindergarten 1.6609 $ 4,550
Kindergarten Early Intervention 2.053 $ 5,625
Grades 1-3 1.2865 $ 3,525
Grades 1-3 Early Intervention 1.8054 $ 4,946
Grades 4-5 1.0327 $ 2,829
Grades 4-5 Early Intervention 1.7998 $ 4,931
Grades 6-8 1.0165 $ 2,785
Middle School Programs 1.1220 $ 3,074
Grades 9-12 1.0000 $ 2,740
Vocational Labs 1.1838 $ 3,243
Special Ed. – Category I 2.3973 $ 6,568
Special Ed. – Category II 2.8209 $ 7,728
Special Ed. – Category III 3.5939 $ 9,846
Special Ed. – Category IV 5.8299 $ 15,973
Special Ed. – Category V 2.4606 $ 6,741
Gifted 1.6694 $ 4,574
Remedial Education 1.3141 $ 3,600
Alternative Education 1.6046 $ 4,396
ESOL Program 2.5356 $ 6,947

So we can see that it costs the state (in FY2012) $2,740 to educate a 9th grader, and $3,525 for a 3rd grader. That makes this data make a little bit more sense; we can see how many students are in a district, and we understand what’s happening under the hood to get those calculations.

Indirect costs refer to administration and maintenance costs.

The “millage rate” is, functionally, a tax rate. describes it using this example:

During its budget process, the Smallville City Council has determined that $2,000,000 in tax revenue is needed to balance this year’s budget– the rest of the $4 million budget will be funded by speed traps and revenue from the city cable TV system. Meanwhile, the County Tax Commissioner’s Office has determined that 40% of the city’s gross tax digest is $480,191,862; after all exemptions, the net tax digest (40% figure) is $438,894,502.

The correct millage rate, therefore, is $2,000,000 divided by $438,894,502, or .004557 (rounded).

The number .004557 represents the tax on each dollar of value. To determine the rate on every $1,000 of value, multiply the rate by 1,000 or simply move the decimal point three places to the right. Though not required, millage rates are often rounded to two decimal places, which gives you 4.56 mills or $4.56 of tax on every $1,000 of taxable property value.

John Q. Homeowner’s residence is assessed for tax purposes at $150,000. The taxable value is $60,000 (40% of $150,000). John’s property tax for the year is therefore $273.60 (60,000 x .00456).

In other words, John’s share of the $2 million, that year’s cost of city government that was not funded by fees, fines and other revenue sources, is $273.60, based on the taxable value of his real property.

Since one mill is one dollar of tax for every thousand dollars of assessed taxable value, five mills would be five dollars for every thousand dollars. Thus, the QBE Earnings are equal to the expenditures of the school minus the local millage.

Next, the Categorical Grants are made by the State for those activities, such as pupil transportation and nursing, which are earned on a system-wide basis instead of a per-student basis.” Equalization is a reflection of the fact that not all districts can raise the same amount of money (that 5 Mill Share). A district that is at or below 75% of a formula that measures statewide property tax wealth.

That was a lot, so, again:

QBE Earnings+Categorical Grants+/-Equalization+Adjustments for Special Factors. 


So What Now?

Now we have at least a basic understanding of what’s going on with state-level school funding (keeping in mind that the Mill rate is funded on the local level). This leads me to think that the simplest (if not easiest, from a political perspective) method of education reform would be to update the QBE formula. My initial reaction would be to adjust the weight for a student participating in the Free/Reduced Lunch Program (As of this writing, the Georgia Department of Education has not responded to my requests for a comment on whether or not participation in the F/RL program affects the QBE). An FTE rate of 1.3, maybe.

We know that Appling (going alphabetically) has a F/RL participation rate of 72.15%. We know from available data that there are 3,582 students in the system (actually, it might be as many as 3,627 if superminorities are taken into account, but we’ll ignore that for now). Rounding, we can say that 2,585 students participate in F/RL. If each of those students received an additional .3 FTE, that would work out to an additional $822 per child, or $2,124,870 total. That’s not insignificant, but it’s pretty high. A rate of .15 would yield half of that. Let’s say another million in revenue. That’s equivalent to 30 first-year professionally-certified teachers, at least according to that salary chart (this is also going to be a useful heuristic moving forward: for every $1,000,000 in revenue, you get 30 first-year teachers).

There’s a lot of good you can do in a county if you drop 30 extra teachers in there. But there are a lot of questions here. First of all, how would you pay for it? Second, are more teachers the answer? Third, we still don’t know what the relationship is between school performance and demographics. 

Stay tuned.



Categories: Get Wonky

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3 replies


  1. Get Wonky: Education Reform, Part II | The Georgia Wonk
  2. Get Wonky: Education Reform, Part III – The Georgia Wonk
  3. Delicious, Delicious Data Part II – The Georgia Wonk

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