Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

Georgia Senate leaders plan to pump up — but delay — teacher pay raise

Georgia Senate leaders boosted Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed teacher raise back up to $3,000, but educators would have to wait a few months to receive the pay hike.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday backed a $27.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2020 — which begins July 1 — that includes the pay raise for educators, including certified staffers such as counselors and school psychologists.

Georgia’s House had passed a spending plan that included $2,775 raises because the chamber’s budget-writers said Kemp’s original plan didn’t include money for thousands of school psychologists, counselors, media specialists, social workers, speech and language pathologists, and instructional technologists.

Under the Senate’s version, the state would save about $50 million by delaying the start of the pay raise from July 1 to Sept. 1. By doing so, it would have the money — more than $400 million — to give k-12 educators the full raise Kemp proposed.

The Senate is expected to approve its budget plan in the coming days, opening negotiations with the House over the final version for the upcoming year. Lawmakers must approve a balanced budget before the session ends April 2.

On the campaign trail last fall, Kemp promised teachers a $5,000 pay raise. He called this year’s increase a down payment on meeting that promise.

Both chambers backed Kemp’s plan for 2 percent raises for state and University System of Georgia employees.

Both chambers would also borrow $150 million for a new voting system in Georgia and $100 million for bridge projects.

Georgia plans to replace the state’s 16-year-old electronic voting machines with a voting system that has a paper trail for accuracy. Both chambers have approved legislation to go with paper ballots printed by touchscreen computers, similar to the system currently in use statewide, rather than strictly hand-marked paper ballots that would be much cheaper. That legislation is awaiting Kemp’s signature.

Officials said the budget also 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.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, also noted increases for things such as mental health services, food pantries and programs to get more doctors into rural Georgia’s health care system.

“This is a progressive budget that meets many of the human needs of the citizens of this state … the human needs of the elderly, of children, of those in need,” Hill told colleagues on the panel before Thursday’s vote.

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