By State Representative Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain)
The recent education crisis within the DeKalb County school system requires an objective eye, moral fortitude, and moral integrity to bring a solution to my constituents. I fought to put our children first and held our local school system accountable for over 20 years and will continue to do so. However, I do not support state intervention because the state does not have the moral foundation or the integrity to address the issue of funding. It is the taxpayers and voters who hire and fire us with their votes and pay us with their tax dollars. As such, it should be a top priority for elected officials to fund crucial repairs to Druid Hills High School, along with three additional high schools, about 12 middle schools, and even more elementary schools.
Instead of receiving help to address these issues, the DeKalb County school system faces threats of denial of state funding. This is a disservice to taxpayers, voters and property owners in our county. DeKalb County has long been a donor county in the state of Georgia, along with other counties, such as Fulton and Cobb. We have long been waiting to examine the root cause of how these delays and underfunding occurred in order to find a workable solution. However, such a breakthrough requires us to suppress political grandstanding and approach this crisis with an objective reason that puts our children/students and our parents first.
As an activist, government watchdog, and missionary, I have worked with a coalition of organizations from North and South DeKalb for over 20 years to address issues within our school system. We have voiced these issues over the years, writing letters, taking photos, filing complaints and accusations, etc. to make improvements to our school system. DeKalb County suffered dismissal of the entire school board by the governor, administrative staff being charged with crimes and going to jail and more than seven superintendents in 12 years. Taxpayers and voters in DeKalb County have endured many issues, problems, and drastic changes in an effort to hold elected officials, especially the school board, accountable. With this history in mind, this issue requires a deeper understanding of the issues, especially if we ask elected officials and state agencies to look at reparations funding.
However, as previously stated, I strongly believe that our Governor and State Superintendent must examine their moral fortitude before suspending funding to the DeKalb County school system. If the state launches an investigation, it must begin with higher education first, specifically with the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. We must remember that many of these issues have already been brought to the attention of the state. I have joined whistleblowers in calling for an investigation into higher education agencies, including the Board of Regents, which have multiple complaints of wrongdoing, wrongdoing and criminal activity. On local education funding issues, particularly facilities and staff, many residents have worked with coalitions to bring attention to and hold our local school board accountable for over 20 years.
In addition, we need to further examine funding issues at national and local levels. Several activists and education groups have fought for years to improve local school repairs that are more than 20 years old. The complaints were voiced in North and South DeKalb. Many have called for legislation to hold school boards accountable with an external audit system that can be initiated by parents and owners. However, the drafting of such legislation has encountered several barriers and obstacles. During the 2021 legislative session, I co-signed House Bill 10, Students Living in Poverty Act, which would provide $343 million to educate students living in poverty in Georgia. HB 10 is sponsored by State Representative Sandra Scott (D-Rex) and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) Policy Note “State of Education Financing 2022” supports this legislation.
The use of annexation diverted more than $26 million from the DeKalb County School District and provided that funding to the City of Decatur and Atlanta school systems, but those same school systems only accepted 62 students. These disparities existed for more than five years before there was a change in legislation to help improve equality and equity to balance student exchange with adequate funding. We have to assess what repairs could have been made with $26 million.
The GBPI has also documented more than $10.2 billion in funding taken away from education since 2003, while corporate welfare has benefited from more than $10 billion in tax credits. This includes more than $400 million in tax credits for people and businesses outside of Georgia. Again, I’m curious what repairs could have been done with that $10.2 billion.
The state of Georgia has underfunded school districts for years due to the outdated QBE formula that dates back to the year 1981 (over 30 years). State elected officials boast of fully funding QBE while refusing to address underfunding of transportation, benefits for auxiliary staff and students in poverty, refugees, immigrants and English speakers other languages (ESOL).
At a time when Georgia has only fully funded public schools for three of the past 21 years, lawmakers passed Bill 517 this year to send an additional $20 million in public funding to private schools, bearing the cost bonds at $120 million a year. Previous versions of the bill included a sunset clause which was unfortunately removed.
Finally, I have identified several potential funding solutions for the DeKalb County School District that I would like to bring to your attention. First, the state must remove DeKalb County as a donor county because of the high school mileage rate, the number of students living in poverty, refugee and immigrant students needing additional services, the number of ESOL students and the recent lawsuit decision requiring over $200 million. Payment. Counties that pay and/or generate more than a 20 school mile rate should also retain this funding until 50% of other counties also achieve a 20 school mile rate. In addition, taxpayers who demonstrate financial problems with the local school budget or E-SPLOST funding should have the right to establish and/or initiate an external audit system for local school districts to ensure there is a responsibility to taxpayers.
State Representative Viola Davis represents the citizens of District 87, which includes parts of DeKalb County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 and currently serves on the Natural Resources and Environment, Insurance, Interstate Cooperation, and Science and Technology Committees.