MARIETTA — With the 2022 legislative session just months away, Cobb school board members agreed Thursday to vigorously defend the district’s funding sources under the Gold Dome.
The board unanimously approved during its work session a slate of legislative priorities aimed at boosting cashflows to public education and scuttling efforts to divert money to private and charter schools.
Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the coming year’s priorities would be “some familiar, some new,” before turning the presentation over to Gretchen Walton, the district’s legislative liaison.
Among her focuses, Walton said, would be trying to equalize funding for students taking virtual classes and those learning in-person. Currently, the state funds each virtual student at about 60% the amount for an in-person student.
Ragsdale and Walton would later add there is a possibility lawmakers could seek to reduce virtual funding even further, which he said was based on “a fallacy” that online classes require fewer resources.
“A teacher is a teacher is a teacher … It makes sense on paper to say, well, if you’ve taken 30 kids out of this elementary school that are now virtual, well then you should have less classrooms … that’s not the way that works,” Ragsdale said.
Walton added that other priorities would include pushing back on attacks on the state’s teachers’ retirement fund, ensuring Gov. Brian Kemp follows through on promised raises for educators and blocking attempts to increase funding for education vouchers for private and charter schools, which she said come with “almost zero accountability.”
Board member Jaha Howard asked whether the district would consider pushing for changes in the state’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, a complex calculation devised in the 1980s which determines how much funding each district receives from the state.
“It seems to make sense that as a county, we can have a strong position encouraging our legislators to revamp the QBE formula,” Howard said, calling for a more “proactive” stance on the issue.
Walton and Ragsdale agreed that was a worthy cause, but that the main priority would be encouraging the state to fully fund the formula — something that has happened only twice since 2012, Walton said. Ragsdale likewise noted that past proposed changes to the formula had actually threatened to cut Cobb’s funding levels by millions of dollars.
Later on in the meeting, district Chief Financial Officer Brad Johnson said it would be worthwhile for the district to push for greater education funding in the coming year’s state budget, particularly given its unexpected $2 billion-plus surplus.
“There is money down at the legislature this year,” as Johnson put it. Other healthy cash streams detailed in his quarterly financial report included strong returns on the county’s sales tax and rising property values across Cobb.
At the meeting’s close, Howard said he had a request for an item to be added to Thursday night’s regular agenda — a discussion of Cobb schools’ accreditation report, which the district’s accrediting firm, Cognia, sent the district Monday.
“There was some big news that came out, and we haven’t talked about it yet in over three hours of meeting … I’d like for our agenda to reflect that urgent matter,” Howard said.
Board Chairman Randy Scamihorn said the agenda could only be revised in case of emergency, and didn’t see the accreditation matter as “applicable” to that category. He then deferred to board attorney Suzanne Wilcox, who likewise didn’t recommend adding the item.
Howard then asked Scamihorn if he could guarantee a discussion of the matter at the board’s December meeting, with the chair responding that he’d reserve his final answer until he had read the report.
The board then adjourned to executive session. Scamihorn told the MDJ he expected the board to be delivered the report before its 7 p.m. meeting Thursday.