Using several weather metaphors throughout the annual State of the State address, Gov. Nathan Deal hopes more spending on education will end the stormy clouds of shrinking budgets and furlough days that have plagued education in recent years.
At $547 million, Deal called his proposal the largest single increase in funding for K-12 education in seven years. The proposal, which he outlined on Wednesday during a joint session of the General Assembly, is designed to increase access to technology, end teacher salary freezes and restore instructional days. Deal’s proposed $8 billion toward K-12 education includes nearly 82 percent of new revenue receipts dedicated to education, with 68 percent of those new revenues going to K-12 education.
In the Democratic response, Jason Carter, a candidate for governor, said Deal’s proposed increase in education funding is nothing more than an election-year ploy by Deal, a Republican up for re-election.
In Gwinnett, one teacher said the proposal was welcome news.
Richards Middle physical education teacher Ron Hickman said teacher morale and overall attitudes would improve tremendously if the proposal is approved.
“People who teach do it because they love children and they love trying to make a difference in their lives,” Hickman said. “But it definitely would be nice to get paid more while doing it.”
Hickman said he did a conservative estimate that because of a lack of raises in the last six years, his salary is $12,000 less than if he had received a raise over those years.
Riverside Elementary fourth-grade teacher Melisa Jeffers said she had faith that Gwinnett County Public Schools officials would do what’s best for students and staff.
“I hope and pray that the legislature will follow through and increase spending for education,” Jeffers said. “This will ultimately improve morale as well as serve our students.”
Deal added that during his administration, funding for education has increased every year for a combined more than $930 million.
For technology, Deal included $44.8 million in the budget to better connect every classroom in Georgia to the Internet and other digital resources.
While GCPS is in its third year of an classroom technology initiative, many districts across the state, especially in rural South Georgia, lag behind in technological advancements.
“It is my goal that every child in any classroom in our state will have access to the best instruction possible, and this can be done by expanding the availability of our online learning,” Deal said.
Carter, meanwhile, said Georgians are paying more in property taxes because of state education cuts, an issue he called “broken” and in “crisis.”
“We need a new approach, a separate process to keep it up from being raided each year by lawmakers,” Carter said.
Carter proposed a separate budget for education that lawmakers would consider before a budget for the rest of the government.
“Today, our education budget is a shell game,” Carter said. “A separate education fund will make our investment in education the state’s top priority. To me, setting out clear priorities for how our money gets spent, and living by them, is what it means to be a fiscal conservative.”
Beyond high school, Deal also asked legislators to create a new Zell Miller Hope Grant for technical college students that would cover 100 percent of their tuition for those who maintain a 3.5 grade-point-average. Deal’s budget proposal also includes $10 million for a one percent interest loan program solely for technical college students, and a recommendation to fund the Hope Scholarship and Hope Grant at 103 percent of the amount it was last year.
“This will allow students who have a financial need to cover the funding gap in tuition, books and fees,” Deal said.
After the success of last year’s priority list of areas of study in technical colleges that have high job placement, Deal added welding, healthcare technology, diesel mechanics and information technology to the list of commercial driving, practical nursing and early childhood education.
Deal said 100 percent of the tuition was paid for through the Hope Grant for students who pursued the original three areas.
The governor also announced the creation of the Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative, which is a collaboration between leaders in economic development, the University System of Georgia and technical colleges and schools.
“This initiative will allow us to hear directly from the employers of our state about what they expect their future needs will be, and it will give our institutions of education the chance to get ahead of the curve in preparing tomorrow’s workforce,” Deal said.