Kemp plays Santa to 308,000 Georgia teachers, state employees with $1K bonus

Sitting on massive reserves, Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday he’ll provide a $1,000 retention bonus to state employees, teachers and school support staff this holiday season.

The supplements will cost the state about $330 million and be included in the mid-year budget Kemp will submit to lawmakers during the first week of the 2024 session, which begins Jan. 8. But the bonuses should be delivered in end-of-the-year paychecks next week, his staff said.

“Throughout the pandemic, a summer of unrest, and the unprecedented challenges of the last several years, our state employees have worked hard, taken on additional challenges, remained committed to serving their fellow Georgians, and become more streamlined so we can remain the best state for opportunity,” Kemp said.

“This retention pay supplement will arrive during the holiday season, and it’s part of my administration’s way of showing our appreciation for all that they do.

“It’s going to be a good Christmas and New Year here in Georgia.”

Elected officials, such as the governor and lawmakers, will not get the bonus.

Kemp and lawmakers have raised pay for teachers and many state employees by $7,000 in recent years. Kemp promised teachers pay raises when he first ran for governor in 2018, but state employees have gotten boosts as well to combat high agency turnover rates and compete with private businesses, which have increased salaries because of worker shortages and inflation.

Employees in some agencies that have had a hard time finding and retaining workers - such as those in the the prison and juvenile justice systems - have seen even bigger raises, as have state troopers and others.

Former Georgia State Patrol Col. Chris Wright. (Hyosub Shin /


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Even with those pay boosts, the then-head of the Georgia State Patrol, Col. Chris Wright, urged lawmakers earlier this year to reinstate full pensions for troopers, something that all state employees had before lawmakers did away with them for new hires during the late 2000s. Wright told a legislative panel that the pay raises, while appreciated, weren’t enough to retain some troopers.

On Monday, House Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, praised the governor’s bonus plan.

“It sends a great message (that) we support everybody that works for Georgia. We’re trying to put the money back in the communities where it belongs,” Hatchett said. “I think it’s a great thing. We’ve got a huge issue with turnover statewide, that’s around 24%. It’s been a concern of mine since I’ve been in this role … and this is a step in the right direction. And I think you’ll see other things done.”

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a Jackson Republican and the Senate’s president, and House Speaker Jon Burns, R-Newington, also praised Kemp’s bonus plan, as well as a second initiative to spend $100 million on school safety measures.

So did the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher advocacy group.

”The one-time pay supplement and school safety budget allocation will give Georgia educators and families greater peace of mind this holiday season,” said Craig Harper, the organization’s executive director.

Kemp and legislative leaders can afford the initiatives because, as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in October, the state is sitting on about $16 billion in reserves after three consecutive years of massive revenue surpluses. State tax collections have been slowing, but $16 billion is enough to fund state government for about half of a year without any other revenue.

“We’re able to make the investments today because we made sure the state’s economy was on sound footing, because we didn’t grow government but instead made it more efficient, and because we didn’t commit one-time money to long-term liabilities,” the governor said.

Kemp’s announcement Monday is the second involving big money in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the governor said he would support legislation to speed up implementing an income tax rate cut that was approved in 2022 and was to be phased in through 2029. His staff said that would save Georgians about $300 million a year in taxes. The biggest beneficiaries would be high-income earners but backers said millions of Georgians would get some tax break.

Staff writer Ty Tagami contributed to this report