House Appropriation Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Kemp’s teacher pay raise trimmed, spread to other Ga. school workers

Teachers would receive a little less than what Gov. Brian Kemp promised them under the House budget plan the chamber is set to approve this week.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $27.5 billion state budget for fiscal 2020 — which begins July 1 — that gives smaller raises to teachers but also spreads the pay hike to about 9,800 school psychologists, counselors, media specialists, social workers, speech and language pathologists, and instructional technologists.

The full House is expected to back the spending plan Thursday.

On the campaign trail last fall, Kemp promised teachers a $5,000 pay raise. When he proposed a $3,000 raise in January, he called it a down payment on meeting that promise.

But House members said while the $3,000 would go to about 100,000 teachers, Kemp’s budget plan didn’t include enough money to give the same hike to other school employees certified by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. His budget proposal had about $480 million designated for the raises, but House budget-writers said it was $35 million short of providing the same raises to school counselors and other certified staffers.

They said under Kemp’s budget plan, those employees instead would get a $682 raise.

So the House wants to lower the raise to $2,775 for teachers. All other certified employees would get the same.

“These are individuals who are dealing with students on a daily basis, just like the teachers are,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn. “You look at school counselors, they are often dealing with students that are causing issues in the classroom. It’s just a fairness issue for all those individuals.”

Ramona Mills, the communications director for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher group, said her organization commended the House for backing “an equitable pay raise for all educators.”

“Georgia’s teachers work in close partnership with school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors and the entire student-focused team on behalf of 1.6 million children throughout our state,” she said. “At a time when student mental health is of utmost import, this action will positively impact recruitment and retention of teachers and mental health professionals, which will, in turn, greatly contribute to student achievement, emotional well-being and whole-student success.”

When asked about the House move, Kemp said he remains committed to fulfilling his campaign promise, and that he would continue talking to lawmakers about his budget priorities.

The spending plan the House is expected to approve Thursday also includes 2 percent raises for state and University System of Georgia employees.

The House version of the 2020 budget would 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. The House voted Tuesday 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.

The $150 million Kemp recommended and the House supports would provide lawmakers the money to go for the more expensive system.

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.

The House added dozens of items to Kemp’s original budget proposal, and it cut others. The chamber added $32.4 million to increase the rate of payments to nursing homes. The state pays about $1 billion to nursing homes each year to house the state’s elderly and disabled.

The House put in extra money for investigators to look into complaints of elder abuse and for a program aimed at getting the chronically homeless who are mentally ill into facilities. It put $1 million into the budget to provide feminine hygiene products to low-income students and people who come to county public health departments, and $400,000 for Attorney General Chris Carr’s initiative to go after human traffickers.

The House also added $1.47 million to begin fixing problems at the state’s relatively new poultry lab. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January that problems in a biosafety facility built to handle viruses such as avian influenza at the state’s 4-year-old poultry lab in Gainesville may eventually cost taxpayers $4 million to fix.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said that there were design flaws in the facility. Workers in the biosafety lab were pulled from the room last spring, with some complaining of headaches, officials said.

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