School superintendents from across Georgia applaud as Gov. Brian Kemp prepares to speak at their annual conference in Athens on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. Kemp reiterated a campaign pledge to raise teacher pay by $5,000. He and lawmakers gave them $3,000 this year, and Kemp said he would follow through with the rest without committing to a timeline. TY TAGAMI / AJC

Kemp reiterates pledge to pay teachers more, but doesn’t say when

Gov. Brian Kemp is committed to paying teachers more, but he didn’t say when.

In a brief speech to a gathering of school superintendents Thursday, Kemp touted results from last winter’s legislative session, including full funding of the state’s portion of school budgets and new money for student mental health services and school security.

The governor also addressed teacher pay. While campaigning for the office last year, he pledged to raise pay by $5,000, but he and lawmakers produced only $3,000.

On Thursday, at the Georgia School Superintendents Association annual conference in Athens, Kemp said he was determined to raise the rest of the money.

“We’ve got to continue to work on paying our educators for the critical work that they do every day, and as I said on the campaign trail my commitment is to ultimately raise the educator pay by $5,000 and I believe that we’re going to get there,” he said.

As part of the budgeting process, Kemp ordered state agencies to give him budgets with 4% cuts for the fiscal year that started this month and 6% cuts for the next one, fiscal year 2021. The school funding formula, at $11.5 billion, is shielded from those cuts, but the strain is showing in other areas.

For instance, the fast-growing dual enrollment program, which pays for high school students to take college courses and earn college credit, has become too costly and is “on an unsustainable path,” Kemp said. He said misuse is part of the problem, though he didn’t elaborate beyond saying that, “quite honestly, we have people that are gaming the system.”

Last spring, the Georgia Student Finance Commission discussed a 20% cut, saving $25 million by not paying for books and fees. The program is popular, though, growing from fewer than 12,000 enrolled in fiscal year 2013 to more than 43,000 five years later.

“I’ve been very clear that we’re going to continue to have this great program, but we’ve got to make sure it’s accountable and that the taxpayers are getting a good return on their investment,” Kemp said. “We’ve got to come up with a plan, if you will, that everybody’s on board with, that preserves the mission of the program.”

During his 15-minute speech at The Classic Center, Kemp also talked about his desire to reduce teacher turnover and to overhaul the state learning standards.

Kemp has said he wants to “dismantle” the Common Core, and state school Superintendent Richard Woods has said the current state standards are too similar to the Common Core.

Kemp said Thursday he’s working with Woods to develop “Georgia-centric” standards, but he added a note of caution: “there’s a lot I think that we need to do, but we have to be very careful about how we do that and how fast we move in doing that,” so educators have time to adjust.

Both he and Woods, who spoke later, said they’d heard enough from teachers to know that schools are too focused on testing. It’s something they both said they want to change. “Our goal should be to allow teachers to do what they want to do, and that’s to teach kids,” Kemp said.

They toured the state together, and heard from both school administrators and teachers about it.

“Testing is something we do,” Woods said, “but it’s not what we do.” At a recent listening stop in Gwinnett County, Woods himself, a former school administrator, said he remembers bagging up school tests that had been soiled by students sickened by test-related stress.

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