How the City Council votes earns most of the headlines, but the Atlanta Board of Education’s budget is a much bigger deal in terms of tax dollars spent. The price tag for APS’s current 2023-2024 fiscal year is $1.69 billion—more than double that of the City of Atlanta’s $790 million general fund.
That’s a major reason why passing an annual budget is the most essential part of the school board’s job—aside from hiring and firing a superintendent.
Here’s an overview of what the APS budget is and how it works:
What is the APS budget exactly?
A district’s budget is a plan of how it will spend money for a fiscal year—a 12-month period that begins on July 1 and ends on June 30 of the following year. The budget determines how much money will be allocated to facilities projects, staff salaries, classroom materials, technology, nutrition, and various programs and services for the entire fiscal year.
How does the budget process work?
The APS superintendent hires a chief financial officer (CFO) to oversee budget creation, accounting, and financial reporting based on their guidance and goals set as part of the district’s five-year plan.
An early draft of the budget that details how much money APS has, what sources that cash comes from, and how the district plans to spend those funds is usually presented to the school board in September. Over the next nine months, the Board Budget Commission and Student-Success Funding (SSF) Taskforce meet to discuss the budget. A key date is the Governor’s State of the State Address in January when the governor unveils the state’s education budget and how much that APS will receive.
“The superintendent sets the [budget] strategy, but the board’s job is to look at it and say, ‘OK, how does the budget align with our goals and priorities?” said District 1 board member Katie Howard. “We’ve got to narrow down how best we’re aligning our resources with our greatest needs.”
Additionally, Atlanta residents are encouraged to provide feedback on the budget during public hearings as the board recommends changes to the superintendent and CFO.
The board tentatively approves a budget proposal in May and adopts a final budget in June.
Where does the money come from?
The most significant piece of APS funding comes from local property taxes. Of the district’s current $1.66 billion budget, slightly more than half—$847 million—is projected to come from property taxes. The board sets the property tax rate, or mileage, in June after the budget is finalized.
The rest of the money comes from a combination of the state and federal government and special taxes, said Eshé P. Collins, Atlanta Board of Education chair and District 6 representative.“I think people often perceive that it comes 100% from our property taxes from the city, but it’s a combination of local taxes, state funds, grants, care funding, and special revenue funding from the federal government,” she said. “It’s all of the above.”
This year, another $200 million in revenue originates from the state of Georgia. Most of APS’ special revenue, $185 million, comes from the federal government. APS is also budgeting $134 million this year from E-SPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax). It’s a one-cent retail tax in the City of Atlanta that can only be used for specific capital projects and infrastructure, such as buildings, furnishings, computers, and buses.
APS has also 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. However, the ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds will run out on Sept. 30.
Thanks to a 2020 law, Atlanta school board elections are now staggered, so that city residents elect board members every two years, instead of every four. This fall, school board seats in odd-numbered districts are up for grabs, while seats in even-numbered districts will be up for re-election in 2025. School board members serve four-year terms.
Early voting is scheduled from Oct. 16 through Nov. 3. Election day is Nov. 7. Runoff elections for any seats, if necessary, will happen in December.