Per student spending averages (FY 2015 unless noted)
National: $11,841 (FY 2013)
Hall County: $7,892
Source: Georgia Department of Education and National Public Radio
Georgia spends less per student than the national average, Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said. And Hall County and Gainesville schools fall below even state averages.
The achievement gap between wealthy and poor students is growing, according to a National Public Radio report about the impact of money on public schools across the nation. And local property tax is one of the biggest determinants in the success of a K-12 public education school.
Big homes and big businesses, therefore, mean more money for students.
But money isn’t everything. It’s how funds are spent that matters most, according to local officials.
“I'd say we are supported both at the state and local level in a very fair manner, and I have no complaints,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said.
Georgia spends an average of $8,665 per student during a single academic year, Cardoza said.
NPR reports the figure slightly higher at $9,288, which Cardoza said likely factors in debt service, capital project spending and other revenues not typically calculated in general fund budgets.
Either way, the figure is lower than the national average of $11,841 in fiscal year 2013, the last year for which federal data is available, according to NPR. (The numbers have been adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living.)
And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Georgia ranked 37th out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia in per student spending for the 2013 fiscal year.
Nationally, a school’s funding comes from three places: 45 percent local, 45 percent state and 10 percent federal.
For Hall County Schools, 62 percent of a $219 million general fund budget is supported by the state, while 38 percent is funded locally. All federal support is directed through separate funds.
The Gainesville City Schools budget, meanwhile, has 55 percent of funding for about 8,000 students coming from the state, 37 percent from local property taxes and 8 percent from the federal government.
“State funding is based on a formula that should basically provide equitable funds across the state based on specific student criteria,” Gainesville Schools Superintendent Wanda Creel said. “The local tax digest can result in a difference in available funding due to the size of the tax base.”
Schofield said less affluent districts typically receive more federal support for English language programs and other services that help students in poverty.
“We are proud of our conservative approach to handling the public's funds,” Schofield said. “At the same time, an education costs money and we are in competition with some of our more affluent neighbors, such as Forsyth and Gwinnett, for the same most precious resource: great teachers.”
Creel said Gainesville has restored all teacher furlough days enacted at the height of the economic recession and once again supports a full 180-day student calendar each academic year.
Creel said she hopes increased funding can support a 3 percent pay increase for teachers in the next year.
Hall County is scaling back its raises for employees to 2.5 percent after lower tax revenue projections were recently released.
“Gainesville may have a slightly smaller per pupil expenditure,” Creel said. “However, what is critical is how a budget is created to apply the funding to the resources utilized in our classrooms to meet the needs of our students.”