K-12 public schools in Georgia enroll about 1.7 million students, with 53% in poverty, 5% learning English, 51% minorities, and annual expenditures of a little over $16 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
The Georgia Supreme Court held in 1981 that the state constitution does not require equitable school funding, but it also found that students in the state must receive an opportunity to acquire the basic minimum skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process. A more recent adequacy suit was withdrawn.
The Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia (CASFG) sued the state in 2004, seeking adequate funding for Georgia's schools under the education and equal protection clauses of the Georgia Constitution. Plaintiffs withdrew the suit prior to trial, in 2008, after learning that the trial judge had been replaced by a judge who was likely to be predisposed against the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs, now renamed the Georgia School Funding Association (GSFA), are advocating for better school funding and other education improvements with the legislature and governor.
Although the Georgia Supreme Court recognized in 1981 in McDaniel v. Thomas that there were significant disparities in educational opportunities in Georgia and that school finance issues were justiciable, it upheld the state's school funding system under the equal protection and education clauses of the state constitution. The Court found that education is not a fundamental right and there was a rational basis for the disparities.
In 2004, plaintiffs filed Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia (CASFG) v. State of Georgia, alleging that the state, in violation of the education and equal protection provisions in the Georgia constitution, failed to provide sufficient funding to allow certain low-wealth districts to educate their students to meet contemporary educational standards and competitively function in society. Although plaintiffs won a number of pretrial motions, they withdrew the suit in 2008 after learning that the trial judge had been replaced by a judge who was likely to be predisposed against the plaintiffs.
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The Georgia state constitution provides that "an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia." The authority to establish and maintain public schools is granted to county and area boards of education. The board of education of each school system is required to annually certify to its fiscal authority "a school tax not greater than 20 mills per dollar for the support and maintenance of education." Ga. Const. Art. 8.
In McDaniel v. Thomas, the Georgia Supreme Court held that “even a “minimum education” must provide each child with an opportunity to acquire the basic minimum skills necessary for the enjoyment of the rights of speech and of full participation in the political process.’” McDaniel v. Thomas, 248 Ga. 632, 644 (1981). At the same time, the court found that “the “adequate education” provisions of the constitution do not restrict local school districts from doing what they can to improve educational opportunities within the district, nor do they require the state to equalize educational opportunities between districts.” Id. at 165.
The court further concluded that “while an “adequate” education must be designed to produce individuals who can function in society, it is primarily the legislative branch of government which must give content to the term “adequate.” Id.
The school finance case Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia (CASFG) v. State of Georgia included a claim for additional state funding for preschool education, but plaintiffs withdrew the case before trial.
The Georgia Pre-Kindergarten Program is rated an exceptionally high 9 out of 10 on the established quality indicators and serves 55% of 4-year-olds.
The state legislature recognizes that high-quality pre-K helps children to develop social and pre-academic skills that will enable them to succeed in kindergarten and throughout their educational experience.
Georgia was the first state in the country to establish the goal of making state-funded pre-K available to all 4-year-olds. However, funding levels have not been sufficient to serve all of the children who want to enroll in the program and school districts and other preschool providers maintain waiting lists.
The pre-K program follows the public school calendar, operating 6-1/2 hours per day, 5 days per week, 180 days per year. Extended day services and extracurricular activities may be available at a cost to parents.
All 4-year-olds and some 5-year-olds who have not previously participated in the pre-K program are "eligible" to attend. The program is offered in a number of settings including public schools, private child care centers, Head Start agencies, faith-based organizations, military facilities, and state colleges and university. Regardless of the program setting, all children must receive the same instructional opportunities. A program is offered in every school district in the state, but insufficient access leaves many on wait lists.
Georgia's pre-K program is funded by proceeds from the state lottery program. The amount of funding is class-specific and depends on class size, geographic location, teacher credentials and the number of children who are Category One eligible based on participation in a federal assistance program.
Pre-K providers may not charge Category One eligible children fees for transportation, health services and meals, but may charge other children reasonable fees for these services. No fees may be charged to any child for services needed to operate the instructional program, such as registration, field trips, curriculum fees, and classroom supplies.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Georgia served 55% of all four-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010.
The program meets 9 out of the 10 NIEER benchmarks.
The program does not require teachers to have a bachelor’s degree nor does it provide for screening and referral services, failing these NIEER benchmarks.
However, the program does require teacher assistants to have a Child Development Associate degree, limits class size, and requires an appropriate student to teacher ratio. In addition, they also have a monitoring and site visit program.
Programs are subject to an on-site evaluation by Bright from the Start, the state agency that runs the pre-K program. A Program Quality Assessment instrument is used to evaluate program compliance with state requirements. In addition, Bright from the Start staff is required to make unannounced visits to providers throughout the year to monitor and evaluate program progress. Programs that have unresolved deficiencies may have their contracts cancelled.
The program will also begin using the Classroom Learning Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) in the 2010-2011 school year to further monitor program quality.