ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday called for increasing funds to Georgia public schools by more than $1.2 billion to help offset cuts to education the General Assembly imposed last year.
The governor’s $26.3 billion mid-year budget – up from the $25.9 billion fiscal 2021 budget lawmakers adopted last June – would restore more than $647 million in “austerity” cuts to Georgia schools. Kemp’s $27.2 billion fiscal 2022 budget plan covering state spending starting July 1 would restore another $573 million.
Kemp’s budget recommendations would mean less heavy lifting for the legislature, which was forced to cut spending last year by $2.2 billion to offset several months of plunging state revenues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on the economy.
Nearly $1 billion of those reductions were to Georgia schools, even as teachers and administrators struggled to cope with the impacts of COVID-19.
“The additional burdens of remote learning, social distancing, wearing a mask, adapting to the new normal honestly made education overwhelming,” Kemp said Thursday during his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the state House and Senate. “With those funds, schools will be able to prioritize our students’ safety [and] ensure quality education continues.”
Besides restoring the cuts to K-12 education, the two budgets would put back spending reductions to Georgia’s public colleges and universities as well as the state’s technical colleges. The governor also is proposing to fully fund enrollment growth at both public schools and on University System of Georgia campuses.
New spending initiatives include $30 million to establish a rural broadband infrastructure grant program, $20 million in seed money in the mid-year budget and $10 million in fiscal 2022 to match federal funds and private money to build broadband projects.
Kemp also is recommending $40 million in the fiscal 2022 budget to launch the Rural Innovation Fund, a pool of money to help finance innovative projects targeted to specific needs in specific parts of rural Georgia.
The annual bond package for building projects is highlighted by $90 million that would go toward the $210 million expansion of the Savannah Convention Center. The General Assembly put up $70 million in bond funding for the first phase of the project last year.
Another $6 million in bond financing would go toward expanding the Lake Lanier Conference Center in Hall County.
Transportation-related bonds include $100 million in what has become an annual allocation for new bridges across Georgia and $10 million for improvements to the state’s network of short-line railroads.
On the mental health front, the fiscal 2022 budget includes nearly $2 million to expand services to Georgians with intellectual and development disabilities.
And, in a sign of the times, $5 million would go toward building an 8-foot fence around the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta. The Capitol grounds have seen a stronger-than-usual police presence since last week’s riot in and around the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump.