Republican nominee for governor Brian Kemp speaks to reporters during a press conference to unveil school safety plan at his campaign headquarters in Buckhead on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kemp unveils school-safety plan

Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp wants to keep the state’s schoolchildren safe by wrapping them in a $90 million security blanket.

He hasn’t clarified how it will be funded.

The current secretary of state unveiled Wednesday a “three-prong” approach he said will ensure Georgia classrooms are ripe for learning — not violence: a school counselor in all 343 state public high schools; one-time funding for schools to spend as they see fit; and a school safety division within the Georgia Department of Education.

Support counselor program

Modeled after former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s graduation-coach program, Kemp’s plan would put a support counselor in every school, tasked with assisting and guiding students battling mental-health issues, opioid abuse, violence in the home or bullying. In addition, they would work to improve graduation rates by connecting students’ families with academic resources and services. This would cost $22,980,000, which is roughly $67,000 each for salary and benefits.

Although schools already have personnel that fulfill that role, campaign spokesman Cody Hall said this is an opportunity to help lighten an already heavy load. “This is an attempt to be more targeted and have a point of contact when a problem arises, such as the student in Parkland, Fla.,” he said.

One-time funding for school security

Each of Georgia’s 2,292 public schools would receive a one-time allotment of $30,000 to use as they see fit for school security. The funds could be used for personnel, such as a school police officer; capital expenditures, such as cameras or metal detectors; or operational expenses, such as data analytics.

The price tag for that component of the plan: $68,760,000.

Kemp did not directly answer several questions about money for arming teachers. He replied that although he supports the Second Amendment, he believes the decision to arm teachers should be left to local school districts.

When asked if that one-time payment would be enough to sustain these measures, Kemp said his research indicated it would. Even though smaller districts may be hard-pressed to budget maintenance or additional personnel, he said the state would provide guidance if needed.

Both the house and senate have school safety study committees established this spring in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 students and teachers lost their lives. The legislators have already allocated $16 million in school-safety funding. The existing formula for allocating the money gives each system a base of $25,000 plus additional money based on enrollment figures. The largest district – Gwinnett County – is on track to receive $1,259,411. The smallest — Taliaferro County — will receive $26,099.

School safety division

Kemp didn’t give a lot of detail on how the Department of Education would establish a division for school safety. He did say he’s been in talks with Superintendent Richard Woods about it.

At the Senate School Safety Study Committee meeting held Tuesday at Chamblee High School, the GBI presented an existing program similar to what Kemp has outlined. Kemp’s program, however, would cost taxpayers nothing, he said. He indicated he would be able to find the money in the state budget by applying “fiscally conservative” measures. He referenced Gov. Nathan Deal’s 2018 budget that reversed years of austerity cuts to fully fund the formula for school funds from the state.

“We will focus on what’s important, and school safety is a top priority,” he said.

Kemp’s opponent in the November race for governor also held a press conference Wednesday to announce her endorsement by the Georgia Association of Educators, one of the state’s largest education groups.

The association, which has about 30,000 members, has stated it’s opposition to arming teachers and has been behind Stacy Abrams since the May primary.

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