Though it seems like the school year just ended, some school districts in the metro Atlanta area will resume in only seven weeks. Needless to say, many aspects of schools and the school year will look different when students return for the 2020-2021 academic year.
First, public schools are trying to decide the best manner to instruct students and ensure students are thriving. School administrators and boards of education for the 180 school districts in Georgia are considering various proposals for the coming school year: returning to traditional learning (either with or without a “block system” for students to attend different days or segments of the day), continued distance or remote learning like districts utilized to finish the school year this spring, or a hybrid system of in-school instruction and remote learning. Indeed, many districts might utilize a hybrid model for the coming semester due to space constraints of the schools and the need to respect social distancing requirements. As schools think through those decisions, other factors need to be considered: ensuring that students have computers, tablets, or other means to utilize virtual learning, including internet access; whether parents or caregivers will be able to stay home with their students (particularly for younger students); cleaning required to ensure buildings and classrooms are properly disinfected; and whether students receive one or more of their meals through the school each day. Whatever each school or district decides, schools and learning will be different for the foreseeable future and might not return to “normal” for many months to come.
Second, making the planning for the school year more difficult, school funding from the State of Georgia will be reduced substantially for the 2020-2021 academic year. Depending on the school district, the State of Georgia provides about half of funding for schools, with local jurisdictions (cities or counties) providing a substantial portion of the funding through property taxes and the federal government providing a small share of funding. The Georgia General Assembly reconvenes this week and one of the largest tasks before legislators is passing a budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2020. Initially Governor Kemp asked state agencies to propose budget cuts of 14%, which affects every state agency and will have significant impacts on the operation of state government. State tax collections for May 2020 were down 10.1% compared to May 2019 so budget writers are adjusted their economic forecasts accordingly. Proposals before legislators include cutting state education funding by more than $1.3 billion, cutting funding for student transportation, and nutrition for students. Teachers and other professionals likely face furloughs and a shortened school year (less school days).
There are several good sources of information for school administrators that summarize the available resources, funding updates, school resources, webinars, and other data that is helpful. One such resource that we have relied on our for our charter schools practice is information compiled by the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia, the agency that authorizes charter schools at the state level. You can find updated information here: https://scsc.georgia.gov/news/2020-06-10/covid-19-information-guidance-state-charter-schools
As the Georgia General Assembly reconvenes, you can find more information about the various budget proposals and process at the State Senate Budget & Evaluation Office http://www.senate.ga.gov/sbeo/en-US/AppropriationsDocuments.aspx and the House of Representatives Budget & Research Office: http://www.house.ga.gov/budget/en-US/default.aspx.
Chilivis Grubman partner Jeremy Berry focuses his practice on government and regulatory matters, charter schools, investigations, and public policy litigation. He is also a registered lobbyist. Please contact Jeremy if you need assistance in any of these areas.