Cherokee County School District reports it’s operating with a $9.4 million shortfall in state funding this year, but a Georgia policy think tank says that the state government is underfunding the district by over twice that amount.

According to a report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, the school district is short $21.2 million in what it should receive in state funding, or $520.65 for every student.

Statewide, the institute says that public schools are underfunded by $1.1 billion this year, and cuts to the state’s funding formula over the past 20 years have cost schools $10 billion.

In addition to restoring cuts to the state funding formula, the report recommends that the state government add an “opportunity weight,” or additional funding for school districts to support students in poverty. Georgia is one of eight states that does not include such a weight in its funding formula for schools. It also recommends that the state cover half of school district transportation costs, as it has in the past.

These recommendations would lead to $21.2 million for CCSD, which according to the institute could pay for 80 teachers, 92 school counselors, and 76 new or replacement school buses.

Cherokee County School District Superintendent Brian Hightower said in a statement that the state should make fully funding public education “its top priority” in next year’s budget.

“We greatly appreciate the work by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute to calculate the true cost of the State’s ‘austerity budget cuts’ and the current State education funding formula’s shortcomings in regard to the actual expense of serving students,” he said. “We believe that our State should make fully funding public education its top priority in developing its budget for next year, and every year, as there is no better investment in our State’s future than in our students.”

Hightower said that over the last 20 years, austerity cuts have withheld over $218 million for CCSD and over $2 billion statewide. Ending the cuts is part of the school board’s requests in its Legislative Partnership Priorities.

“We also ask that the State update its education funding formula to accurately reflect inflation, true costs of transportation; and, to include a funding weight for economically disadvantaged students, funding for safety and security and increased allocations for counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses...thereby providing support for critically-needed student services functions,” he said.

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