In his own words: Governor’s comments today on state of education in Georgia

Brian Kemp devoted a good portion of his State of the State to education and COVID-19

Here is the portion of Gov. Brian Kemp’s State of the State address today that focused on education:

Our oldest daughter Jarrett is in school at the University of Georgia to become a teacher. Earlier this week, she actually started her student teaching assignment. Marty, her sisters, and I are so proud that she has chosen this career path, and her passion for educating has only strengthened my commitment to the teachers of our state.

The state was proactive and aggressive in easing the overwhelming challenges that faced teachers and administrators last year, including allocating $30 million to help ensure student connectivity, slashing the requirements on testing, allocating $19 million to support childcare for working parents, and providing over 8.3 million units of PPE to school systems across our state. But the daunting task of teaching Georgia’s next generation in the midst of COVID-19 has been anything but easy.

So many educators went the extra mile to help the children in their classroom who don’t have the best home life, or maybe it was to do whatever it took to make sure their kids had meals to last them through the day. In a day and age where so much is thrown at those investing in our children on the front lines, the additional burdens of remote learning, social distancing, wearing a mask, adapting to the new normal honestly made educating overwhelming.

But the great men and women running Georgia’s schools didn’t miss a beat. From principals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers and support staff on down, their actions have inspired us all. And today, I’m proud to announce that, working closely with State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the state will provide additional support to school system re-opening efforts, equating to a one-time supplement of $1,000 per teacher and other employees. Richard Woods and his team have been tireless champions for our schools, teachers, and students even before the pandemic, and I appreciate his friendship and leadership. At this time, I’d like to ask those in the Chamber and those joining us via livestream to join me in thanking our educators, administrators, cafeteria workers, and school staff who faced COVID-19 with heart, passion, and perseverance!

But ladies and gentlemen, I believe it is the responsibility of those serving under this Gold Dome to send a clear message that we support our educators, students, and parents. That’s why for this year’s amended budget, I am recommending $647 million to restore funding to school systems across our state, fully fund enrollment growth, and hold schools harmless for enrollment reductions – with $573 million allocated to continue those efforts in next year’s budget as well. Those funds mean schools will be able to prioritize our students’ safety, ensure quality instruction continues, and stand with our educators in the months and years to come. In a year when other states may face no other option but to slash education dollars, furlough teachers, and cut back essential student programs, Georgia is restoring funding to schools, backing our teachers, and launching new initiatives to keep kids enrolled.

Like many families, our three daughters have had to get used to distance learning. Having seen this firsthand as a dad, I think I speak for parents, students, and teachers when I say that having class through a computer screen is leaving too many kids behind. Experts in education and pediatrics have been sounding the alarm for months, and I believe the toll the pandemic is taking on the next generation is reaching a crisis point. These challenges are most concerning for our special-needs children whose educational achievement, personal development, and emotional wellbeing have been severely impacted. To prioritize assistance to these at-risk students and families, my office will be working with the Department of Education to set aside $10 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds to reimburse expenses parents and guardians have incurred while providing a quality education to their loved ones during COVID-19. Pandemic or not, it is my commitment that we will make every resource available to give each student the opportunity to succeed.

As many of you have read in news reports over the last few months As many of you have read in news reports over the last few months, COVID-19 has also had a negative impact on enrollment in some of our colleges and universities. The institutions hit the hardest have often been those serving minority students. With an additional $5 million, a pilot program through the University System of Georgia can keep up to 10,000 juniors and seniors with unmet financial obligations enrolled in college. These hardworking Georgians have nearly crossed the finish line of their higher education journey, and I believe the least we can do is ensure financial hardship at the hands of COVID-19 does not stand in the way of achieving their dreams.

The future well-being of our state and any harvest we hope to enjoy in the years to come will be determined by our shared commitment to education – to our students, parents, teachers, and school staff. As your 83rd governor, that commitment will never waiver.