You would be hard-pressed to find a political candidate who has spent more time talking about an issue without bringing any clarity to it than Jason Carter has done with education.
The Atlanta Democrat has made education -- or more accurately, education funding -- the centerpiece of his bid to unseat Gov. Nathan Deal. Yet, exactly what he would do about it remains something of a mystery.
Carter says he would establish a separate k-12 schools budget as a kind of “trust fund for education.” This, he says, would end the “shell game” that legislators use to fund schools today.
How much money would go into this fund? That’s hard to say.
Carter has criticized budget cuts that in some years hit $1 billion, although in truth that figure doesn’t represent an actual reduction in spending. Rather, it’s the difference between what was spent and what the state’s outdated funding formula said it should have spent, a figure the state has never hit. In any case, Carter hasn’t committed to spending a specific amount as governor.
How would he keep money from leaving the fund? That’d be hard to do.
The very first question I’d expect legislators to ask after receiving his school-funding request is, “How much will this leave for everything else?” The notion they’d simply pass that k-12 budget, no questions asked, and then deal with everything else the state does -- colleges, Medicaid, courts, prisons, transportation, etc. -- is the kind of fantasy that usually doesn’t last beyond the REM stage of sleep.
Where would he come up with the money for the fund? Carter insists he won’t raise taxes, but his alternative suggestions are lacking.
First, he was going to find it among the “giant amount of waste” in state government. But when pressed for specific examples, he demurred. Then, he was going to get it from tax delinquents who owe the state. But tax experts say that is an unlikely and unsustainable source.
Finally, after months of talking up the need for more spending as if every additional dollar sent to schools would be spent wisely, Carter allowed that some of the waste just might be found in … schools.
“I do believe that adding money to the system is not necessarily going to solve every problem,” he said at a meeting of the Georgia PTA earlier this month. “And I do believe in many school districts, especially the largest ones, you can do a lot to reduce waste, to make it more efficient … .”
Precisely which school districts ought to be watching their waste -- and which ones would get some of the $1 billion, or however much Carter would add to the “trust fund” -- is left to your imagination.
Curiously, Carter cites overcrowding in his son’s kindergarten class as evidence of funding shortfalls, even though Atlanta Public Schools last year spent more per pupil than all but two systems in the state. Among Georgia’s 10 largest school districts, APS not only spent the most per pupil; it outspent the No. 2 district, Fulton County, by more than $3,500 a head, or 37 percent.
So, is that overcrowded class an example of regrettable budget cuts or a wasteful misallocation of resources?
Cue Nancy Pelosi: You’ll have to vote for this trust fund to find out what’s in it, and for whom.