by Kylie Holley
Are some Georgia students more important than others? Do some students deserve better facilities, buses, and instructional resources? The obvious answer is no, but you might be surprised to know that Georgia law creates just such an inequity. I am the Superintendent of a public State Commission Charter School that serves almost 600 K-12 students in five counties in rural, southwest Georgia. So, I know firsthand the struggles of running a school on an inadequate budget. State charters are directly funded by the state and do not receive any local tax dollars. Under current state law, funding for state charters is based on the revenues of the five poorest districts in Georgia, regardless of where the school is located. For my school, Pataula Charter Academy, that means we are funded around $2500 less per student than the state average. That comes to a loss of $1.4 million (yes million) annually for us. When you compare our funding to the five local districts we serve, there is an even more shocking inequity. We are funded between $1,800 and $6,400 less per student, with the average difference being $3800. That difference amounts to over $2.1 million. If that isn’t alarming enough, we also are not eligible for any transportation funding, bonds for buses or facilities, or E-SPLOST money.
This all comes down to a lot of missed opportunities for kids. We do a lot of fundraising to give our kids the experiences they deserve; such as field work to places many students have never been before, materials for projects, PE and playground equipment, and sports jerseys that get used year after year. However, we can’t make up a $2.1 million difference, or even $1.4 million, in fundraising. On many occasions our students have sat in the hot Georgia sun on a broken down bus on the side of the road, because we have to purchase 20 year old buses from other public schools that are getting brand new ones. For eight years, we educated students in shabby modular buildings in constant need of repairs. We don’t have a counselor or a nurse or many other support staff that other schools have and our students deserve.
Despite the lack of funding, our students have managed to succeed academically. This past year based on the number of students passing the Georgia Milestones, we outperformed the average of the five local districts in 22 of 23 areas. This is proof that Pataula Charter Academy is already making a difference in our community. I cannot imagine the impact we could have on our students if we had equitable funding to give them the opportunities and support that they deserve.
To correct this funding inequity for Georgia’s state charter school students, I urge everyone to reach out to their state legislators, the Governor’s office, and the state Department of Education to tell them it’s unacceptable to treat certain Georgia public school students better than others. Then talk to your family, friends, and neighbors to educate them on the issue and ask them to do the same. Speak out for the more than 30,000 students attending public State Commission Charter Schools to show you believe that ALL of Georgia’s students deserve equality in education.
Kylie Holley, Superintendent of Pataula Charter Academy