Kemp proposes more funds for teachers, security, buses; pushes for vouchers

Gov. Brian Kemp enters the House of Representatives for the State of the State address at the Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp enters the House of Representatives for the State of the State address at the Capitol in Atlanta on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Gov. Brian Kemp’s agenda for the 2024 legislative session includes more pay raises for teachers, security upgrades for schools, money for school busing and other increases that would add $1.4 billion to Georgia’s budget for K-12 education.

In his annual State of the State address Thursday, Kemp also pitched something that many public school leaders would prefer not to hear: that he wants more state funding for private education, a form of subsidy traditionally known as vouchers.

Georgia has two programs that subsidize private schooling, one for students with special needs and another that uses tax credits.

Here are some areas Kemp mentioned Thursday in his speech and in his budget:

Vouchers

Kemp pressed lawmakers to pass a school voucher bill during this legislative session. They’ve tried unsuccessfully for years, though Senate Bill 233 nearly passed last year and remains in play.

“I believe that we have run out of next years,” Kemp said, urging the Legislature to pass a bill this time.

The governor said competition and the free market drive innovation, resulting in a better product for consumers. “When it comes to education, the same principles hold true,” he added.

The voucher measure has faced fierce resistance from teachers. Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, was disappointed by that part of Kemp’s speech. She disagreed that public schools are like a business.

“There’s not a product in public education,” she said. “I have students. There is not a consumer.”

Voucher proponents have been lobbying lawmakers hard on the issue, even knocking on doors over the holidays.

Both the House and Senate are led by Republicans who back vouchers, with House Speaker Jon Burns of Newington reiterating his support in a media briefing Wednesday. Public schools fear vouchers would erode their funding, but Burns said the Legislature has been generous to their budgets in recent years.

Security

Kemp repeated his pledge in December to send $45,000 to every public school to improve security. His budget proposal includes $104 million for security.

Kemp pledged that the money would be a recurring feature of future budgets so that schools could count on it to hire security personnel or to pay for building or technology upgrades.

Pay raises

Kemp’s budget offers a 4% pay raise for state employees, and $2,500 for teachers.

Altogether, his proposed budget would increase funding for public schools by $1.4 billion, bringing the total to about $13 billion.

Transportation

A major portion of that rising allocation was for something Kemp didn’t even mention. It’s something school leaders have complained about for years: their rising cost of busing students.

Fuel and personnel costs have risen while state funding has fallen. That’s left schools to cover about 80% of the cost out of local tax proceeds, or about $877 million a year, according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

School officials say it’s money that they could otherwise spend in classrooms. Kemp didn’t say it to lawmakers Thursday, but he agrees.

His budget proposes $205 million more for transportation costs, plus another $5 million for higher pay.

Georgia has not significantly updated its funding formula for pupil transportation in nearly two decades, Kemp wrote in a message to legislative leaders that accompanied his budget.

Schools have had to absorb that cost, he wrote: “This means funds that could have gone towards teacher pay and classroom instruction have had to be diverted to cover transportation costs instead.”

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