This story was originally published by Atlanta Civic Circle.

Education budgets are like iPhones: they’re expensive and essential, but few of us know exactly how they work. It doesn’t have to be that way, says Eshé P. Collins, Atlanta Board of Education chair and District 6 representative.

“We have a very nice-sized budget, and a large bulk of that is driven by taxpayer dollars. It’s important for the community as active citizens to understand our budget and how we are spending dollars and investing into our education system as a whole,” says Collins.

Spring is when the school year winds down, while Atlanta Public School’s months-long budget process kicks into high gear, since the $1.66 billion proposed budget must be passed before fiscal year 2024 starts on July 1. The Atlanta school board just released the draft APS budget on May 2, so here’s an overview of how the school budget process works and how you can get involved.

What is in an annual school budget?

A school district’s budget is a detailed breakdown of how much money it has, what sources that cash comes from, and how the board plans to spend those funds. It’s a document that helps determine how much money will be allocated to staff salaries, classroom materials, technology, nutrition, and various programs and services for the entire fiscal year.

Does all education money come from property taxes?

Mostly, but not all, says Collins.

“I think people often perceive that it comes 100% from our property taxes from the city, but it’s a combination of local taxes, funds from the state, and grants, care funding, and special revenue funding from the federal government,” she said. “It’s all of the above.”

Nearly 85%, or $847 million, of the revenue for the APS budget’s general fund in FY 2024 will come from Atlanta property taxes.  Another $200 million in revenue for the general fund, which finances the school district’s daily and long-term operations, will come 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.

Who decides how APS spends money?

The superintendent is in charge of the day-to-day administration of the school district, but the nine-person Atlanta Board of Education determines policies and budgets. Six of the members are elected by geographical districts, and three are elected citywide. All serve four-year terms. 

Atlanta residents are encouraged to provide feedback on how resources are allocated during public hearings.

What does it mean to set the “millage rate”?

The Atlanta Board of Education also sets the new property tax rate, or millage, for the upcoming fiscal year. A tax rate of one mill represents a tax liability of one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value. According to the Georgia Department of Revenue, the average county and municipal millage rate is 30 mills. The board voted in 2022 to set the millage rate at 20.5 mills, a decrease from the previous fiscal year’s rate of 20.74 mills.

The board will set the millage rate in June, after the FY 2024 budget is adopted.

When does the budget process happen?

The APS board holds its first meeting to discuss the budget for the next fiscal year in September. Over the next nine months, the Board Budget Commission and Student-Success Funding (SSF) Taskforce meets 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. 

On May 2, the Atlanta school board tentatively approved the district’s $1.66 billion budget proposal. The board will adopt a final budget on June 5, during their regular monthly meeting.

How can I get involved?

From now until June 5, the public still has a chance to weigh in. A series of public budget hearings will be held around the city the week of May 8. 

  • The first is on Monday, May 8, at 6 p.m. via Zoom. You can register here
  • The second public input meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 10, at 6 p.m. at the APS central office at 130 Trinity Ave. 

Residents can also attend the Budget Commission Meeting on May 18 from 12:15 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Or, you can email the board about budget issues at:

ATL Budget is a civic engagement project in partnership with Atlanta Civic CircleCanopy AtlantaCapital B Atlanta, and the Center for Civic Innovation to help you understand where your tax dollars will go — and how you can have a say about it.