Georgia House, Senate agree to $3,000 teacher pay raise

Georgia’s state Capitol. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Georgia’s state Capitol. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Georgia teachers can expect a $3,000 pay raise, starting July 1, under a new state spending plan House and Senate leaders agreed to Wednesday.

The measure, approved by budget conferees for the two chambers, also calls for a 2 percent pay raise in the coming year for tens of thousands of state and University System of Georgia employees.

The record $27.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2020, which begins July 1, is expected to receive a final blessing from the two chambers in the next few days. The 2019 General Assembly session is scheduled to end Tuesday, and passing a balanced budget is the only thing legislators must do, by law, before then.

Gov. Brian Kemp has called the $3,000 raise a down payment on his campaign promise — made in the fall — to give teachers a $5,000 raise.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said of the new budget plan, "It does a good bit to advance the objectives Governor Kemp outlined in his campaign and has outlined since he became governor."

Teacher groups were pleased with the agreement.

“This plan reflects a substantial down payment on an important promise made to Georgia teachers, who have received a dedicated pay raise on the state salary schedule only once in the last decade,” said Margaret Ciccarelli, a lobbyist for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher group.

It will be one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history. Gov. Zell Miller pushed 6 percent pay raises for four years during his second term in the 1990s in an effort to make average teacher pay in Georgia the highest in the Southeast, but increases have been small or nonexistent many years since the Great Recession hit in the late 2000s.

The House had initially agreed to $2,775 raises because the chamber's budget writers said Kemp's spending plan didn't include money for thousands of school psychologists, counselors, media specialists, social workers, speech and language pathologists, and instructional technologists.

Senators voted to delay the raises until Sept. 1 to save enough money to bump them back up to $3,000. In the end, House and Senate leaders made cuts elsewhere in the budget and agreed to start the raises July 1.

Both chambers also agreed to borrow $150 million for a new voting system in Georgia. The state plans to replace its electronic voting machines with a voting system that has a paper trail.

The budget for the coming year fully funds the k-12 school formula, which was shorted for more than a decade before Gov. Nathan Deal added money to it during the 2018 session.

Most of the increased spending in the budget goes to k-12 schools and public health care, two big-ticket areas of state spending that traditionally grow in a major way each year.

But it includes millions for some of Kemp’s other priorities, including grants for schools to upgrade their security systems. Each of the state’s nearly 2,300 public schools will receive security grants.

Hill highlighted extra money for mental health programs and $1.5 million to improve the counting of Georgians in the 2020 census, which makes an impact in areas such as congressional representation and federal funding for some programs.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said the spending plan includes $35 million to start upgrading the state's railroads. That's something that's been badly needed for many years to make moving freight to and from Georgia ports easier and faster, he said.

“It should help us get some of the truck traffic off the road,” England said, “and allow us to get freight to major manufacturers in the state.”

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