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Did you know that May is Atlanta Public School’s budget month?
From now until June 5, the public can weigh in on APS’s beefy $1.66 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which is up just over 15% from $1.44 billion last year.
In part one of our school budget series, we told you what the annual district budget is and how it works. Now we’ll tell you where the revenue for the 2023-2024 budget of $1.66 billion comes from and what it’s going to fund.
More revenue, more spending
The 15% APS budget increase for the 2023-2024 school year is largely due to pay raises, a slight increase in student enrollment, more money for safety and security, and funding for school board elections. APS per-student spending is projected at $22,622—up from $19,970 for the current fiscal year. That is approximately double the 2023 Georgia average of $11,200 per pupil.
The bigger budget is offset by bigger-than-expected revenues. Local funding, mostly from property taxes, is projected at $847 million for next fiscal year, up from an estimated $807 million this year.
“We are collecting ahead of pace for those initial estimates, and so we feel confident that this 6% increase on top of what we’re actually collecting is a good base for next year,” says Lisa Bracken, APS’s chief financial officer.
State funding, which makes up about 20% of APS’s budget, is expected to increase by $4 million higher, primarily because of an increase in state-funded health benefits, says Bracken.
Federal COVID-19 aid ends
APS has received $201 million in federal funding from three CARES Act COVID-19 relief bills, as part of more than $190 billion in emergency relief funds that Congress appropriated for K-12 education during the pandemic. But the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds will run out on Sept. 30.
Serving more students
Enrollment for APS’s 90 schools was rising before the COVID-19 pandemic, peaking at over 52,000 students, but it’s declined since early 2020.
However, there’s been an uptick of new or returning students during the current school year. At this point, there are 45,832 APS students enrolled, according to budget documents. For 2024, enrollment is projected to very slightly increase by about 250 students, for a total of 46,110.
That matters because state funding formulas rely on prior-year district head counts, like enrollment or average daily attendance, for initial funding estimates. APS is budgeting a $15 million increase in state funding to $200 million for the 2023-2024 school year, which will account for about 17% of APS’s total budget.
Teachers and staff get pay bump
APS will also offer one-time $3,000 retention payments for teachers in what it calls “critical needs” areas, such as special education or math. New teachers for those subjects will get an additional one-time $3,000 stipend.
For the upcoming school year, APS will spend $490 million on teacher and staff compensation—a 13.8% increase. APS is budgeting a total of $59.3 million for salary increases for teachers and the rest of school staff, to place the district in the 75th salary percentile for Georgia’s metro school districts. Of that, $32 million will go to APS teachers and $27.3 million to non-teacher employees. That will pay for raises of 6.5% to 8.4% for staff. APS also plans to reinstate a higher salary band for teachers with doctoral degrees.
All staff at high-poverty schools will receive retention bonuses of $500 to $2,000. Principals at low-performing schools (APS calls them “Turnaround Schools.”), which are run by a nonprofit called Purpose Built Schools Atlanta, will get a $5,000 one-time bonus.
Georgia is one of about 38 states reporting teacher shortages and difficulty retaining teachers and staff. A University of Georgia survey found that three out of 10 teachers would leave the profession in the next five years due to burnout.
Teacher turnover in Georgia was already high before COVID-19, due to low salaries and high-stakes testing demands, which affected teacher’s evaluations, pay and career advancement. The pandemic added additional strains, along with new state laws that took effect last fall that ban public schools from teaching “divisive concepts.”
The state legislature has raised teacher pay by $5,000 since 2019–a $3,000 increase for the 2018-2019 school year and then another $2,000 increase for the 2022-2023 school year. Gov. Brian Kemp signed a 2024 state budget that includes a $2,000 pay raise for more than 200,000 Georgia teachers.
Even so, the average starting salary for Georgia teachers was $38,926 in 2022, which isn’t enough for Atlanta’s cost of living, says Eshé P. Collins, Atlanta Board of Education chair and District 6 representative. “We know that districts across the country—we’re no exception—have lost teachers and have had issues [with retention]. And a large part of that has been because of [insufficient] teacher salaries. So the budget will reflect that.”
Where does the money go?
The APS budget also includes an additional $27 million for school programs.
Here’s how that breaks down:
- $9.2 million–special education
- $2 million—fine arts (art, music, PE, world language)
- $1.9 million—extended learning programs
- $1.8 million—increases to grades K-5
- $685,000—school counseling services
- $872,000—social workers
- $1.3 million—math
- $1.2 million—reading and english language arts
Other line Item increases
Here are some other funding increases in the 2023-2024 APS budget:
—An additional $4 million for safety and security, including $800,000 to fund school resource officers in elementary schools.
—$1 million for athletic trainers, including one at every APS high school.
—$1.7 million to implement a new school nutrition model, including staffing and logistics equipment.
—$4 million to pay for APS school board elections.
—$9.2 million in additional spending from inflation.
—$2.9 million for HVAC upgrades
—$2.6 million for software and system upgrades
Charter schools get a bigger piece of the pie
APS proposes increasing its budget for the district’s 19 charter schools and six partner schools to $237 million, up 13% from the current school year. There are 10,485 students enrolled in those schools, making up 20% of the district’s total enrollment.
Year of the Youth?
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens declared 2023 the “Year of the Youth” in his second State of the City address in March. The city will spend at least $20 million on early childhood pre-K education, he said, using $5 million in APS funds, plus private contributions. He also noted that the city of Atlanta distributed $1 million to 23 youth organizations that serve about 6,000 young people over his first year in office.
That said, the APS budget contains no specific budget items for Year of the Youth initiatives. “Our budget doesn’t align specifically with those initiatives, because those are the mayor’s initiatives that’re driven by the city’s budget,” said Collins, the APS Board of Education chair. “But we’ve aligned some of the investments that we’ve already made on the school-system side to coincide with the mayor’s year.”
How can I get involved?
You’ve got until June 5 to give APS your feedback on the 2023-2024 budget. The full 350-page proposed budget document can be found here.
APS has scheduled its second public-input meeting about the budget for Wednesday, May 10, at 6 p.m. at the APS’s central office, located at 130 Trinity Ave.
Atlanta residents can also attend the APS board’s budget commission meeting on May 18 from 12:15-2:00 p.m. Or, email the board about budget issues at: firstname.lastname@example.org.