Kemp wants to send $45K to every public school in Georgia for school safety

Gov. Brian Kemp plans to include more than $100 million for school safety programs in his annual budget blueprint that would send $45,000 to every public school in Georgia to spend on infrastructure improvements or security officers.

The $45,000 allotment will be built into Georgia’s annual base budget, Kemp said Monday at the state Capitol, meaning that schools can factor the funding into long-term plans rather than a one-time payout.

“This is now going to be part of permanent K-12 school funding,” Kemp said. “This is a landmark payment we’re doing, and we’re trusting our educators and our leaders elected at a local level to use this money in the right way to protect our teachers and our kids.”

It is expected to sail through the state Legislature next year with the blessing of House Speaker Jon Burns and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who each issued supportive statements.

But the plan was a marked departure from another school security proposal outlined earlier this year by Jones to offer public school teachers a $10,000 annual stipend to carry guns in schools. Burns and Kemp have so far declined to endorse that idea.

Democrats have long said that tighter restrictions on who can buy firearms and where they can carry them is a more effective way to prevent mass shootings than bolstering security in seemingly safe places like schools that have become scenes of violence.

“That money is a Band-Aid to safety concerns that require real solutions,” said Democratic state Sen. Jason Esteves. “Fully funding mental health services and responsible gun ownership laws would do much more to prevent a safety issue on campus than reinforced entryways and more armed personnel.”

Clayton County school officials responded to a rash of weapons on campus several years ago with a surprise sweep of a half-dozen high schools using weapons-and-drug-sniffing dogs. AJC file photo

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House Minority Leader James Beverly, the chamber’s top Democrat, said the spending is a “drop in the bucket compared to the needs of our state.”

“We can’t celebrate crumbs while ignoring the banquet right in front of us,” said Beverly, who criticized Republicans for refusing to expand Medicaid to cover more Georgians and opposing firearms restrictions.

“Our students, teachers, and everyone living here deserve better. And all this amidst a multi-billion dollar surplus,” he said of the state’s roughly $16 billion in reserve funds. “It’s like watching a family struggling to buy groceries while sitting on a pile of gold. We need more than gestures.”

‘Do the right thing’

Kemp’s initiative is part of a trend of increased security at U.S. schools amid a spate of mass shootings, such as the 2022 massacre at Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed in one of the deadliest school shootings in the nation’s history.

A federal study showed that two-thirds of public schools now control access to school grounds, and an estimated 43% of public schools have a “panic button” or silent alarm installed. About 78% equip classrooms with locks. All are notable increases from the 2017-2018 school year.

“It will give every school in our state, from Bainbridge to Blue Ridge, funding to secure their buildings and keep students safe,” Burns said, “and give parents and teachers the utmost peace of mind.”

In metro Atlanta, school administrators are stepping up efforts to prevent violence and stop students from bringing deadly weapons onto campuses.

Clayton County banned students from using bookbags and lockers last year after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found close to 100 weapons – including handguns, tasers and an AR-15 assault rifle – on campuses and buses during the 2021-2022 school year.

And leaders across the region have called for ongoing funding to hire staffers to address disciplinary problems and other school safety issues that heightened after the coronavirus pandemic, which exacted an emotional and social toll on Georgia’s students.

“It’s a concern for all of us – you think when you take your child to school, that they’re going to be fine,” said Republican state Rep. Matt Hatchett, the chairman of the House’s budget-writing committee. “So you’ve got to make sure they are.”

Signs hang on the fence around the Taliaferro County school complex on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Crawfordville. Taliaferro County is the state’s smallest school district. Curtis Compton/

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The state has taken other measures aimed at improving school security. Earlier this year, Kemp signed a law mandating that schools carry out an annual active shooter drill involving teachers and students, although the latter group can opt out of the training.

And lawmakers have devoted tens of millions of dollars in one-time funds since 2019, including a $115 million fund approved earlier this year that distributed school safety grants to Georgia’s K-12 schools.

The extra state funding has helped local school districts who are often forced to shoulder the public safety costs because the state’s decades-old school funding formula doesn’t account for significant security spending, said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.

She said a spending plan that includes ongoing funding will “ease some of the burden for our school systems” and potentially allow local administrators to shift other spending toward the classroom.

How it will be implemented remains an open question. Kemp said the plan is designed to finance a resource officer at every public school, though he said he wanted to give local school districts flexibility to spend the money how they choose.

In metro Atlanta, that could mean more security officers, installing metal detectors or buying specialized equipment. Rural administrators might prioritize that spending in other ways.

The governor said he’s confident Georgia’s 180 school districts have a “great track record” of spending the security funding appropriately.

“They know the schools better than we do, back home in their districts. And I’m very comfortable with the work they’ve done,” Kemp said, adding: “We’re also trusting them to do the right thing.”

Staff Writer Ty Tagami contributed to this report.