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Increasing Tax Digests Could Help Some Large Georgia School Districts

Georgia’s statewide per student property tax digest has been declining since the Great Recession, affecting school districts’ revenues and, thus, their budgets. Finally, after five straight years of declines, the statewide per student property tax digest is growing – a 1.6 percent increase between fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The recent growth in the statewide per student digest (PSD) was driven largely by Atlanta suburban districts. During FY 2009-14, 14 large suburban school districts accounted for 59 percent of the state’s decline in PSD; those same 14 large suburban school districts made up 73 percent of the FY 2015 increase.

(A per student digest represents the taxable value of property for a school district for each of the students the system is teaching.)

Those 14 districts — 12 of which are located in metro Atlanta — are: Buford City, Catoosa County, Cherokee County, Chickamauga City, Clayton County, Cobb County, Decatur City, DeKalb County, Douglas County, Forsyth County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Newton County and Rockdale County.

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Growth in Georgia’s PSD reflects appreciating statewide property values relative to changes in student population. Some of these Atlanta area school systems were large enough in student population and aggregate property values to heavily influence the statewide PSD. The districts with substantial contributions to the FY 2015 change are highlighted below.

  • Gwinnett County Public Schools:
    • 10 percent of the state’s student population
    • 25 percent share of the statewide digest increase
  • DeKalb County School District:
    • Almost 6 percent of the state’s student population
    • 13 percent share of the statewide digest increase
  • Atlanta Public Schools, Cherokee County, Cobb County, Gainesville City and Henry County schools:
    • Together, these five districts represent almost 15 percent of the state’s student population.
    • Each of these districts represent at least a 5 percent share of the statewide digest increase.

The statewide increase (1.7 percent) occurred despite some metro-Atlanta area districts and some less urban districts outside of Atlanta still experiencing declining per student digests. Atlanta-area school districts experiencing declining PSDs include: Clayton County, Douglas County, Rockdale County, Carroll County, Spalding County, Cartersville City and Carrolton City.

Despite predictions that school systems will see more extensive increases in their digests, many Georgia districts are still waiting to see their local revenue move in a positive direction.

— Nicholas Warner, research associate

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