ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp proposed restoring hundreds of millions of dollars to Georgia's education budget in his State of the State address on Thursday.
As the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a serious hit to government tax receipts, state education funds were cut by about $1 billion last summer for the 2021 fiscal year, which runs until the end of June (the 2022 fiscal year will start in July).
In his address, the governor said he wanted to soften that shortfall by re-allocating $647 million to the state Department of Education for this fiscal year and $573 million for next year.
Budget reports released Thursday show the impact of those proposed funds, with the Department of Education receiving $12.403 billion in the amended fiscal 2021 budget and $12.329 billion in the 2022 fiscal year budget.
The fiscal year 2021 budget had been cut to $11.756 billion.
The proposed funds would still leave the education budget well below the 2020 fiscal year levels, which reached $13.2 billion, but would bring it back above the 2019 fiscal year level of $12.1 billion.
The governor's budget is just a proposal, however, and the state legislature will ultimately have the final say in allocating new funds for schools through the remainder of this year and then passing a 2022 budget this summer.
Gov. Kemp also proposed a $1,000 one-time supplemental pay bonus for teachers and other education employees.
"Those funds mean schools will be able to prioritize our students' safety, ensure quality instruction continues, and stand with our educators in the months and years to come," Kemp said.
The governor framed the ability to reverse some education cuts as a sign of Georgia's relative fiscal health.
"In a year when other states may face no other option but to slash education dollars, furlough teachers and cut back on essential student programs, Georgia is restoring funding to schools, backing our teachers and launching new initiatives to keep kids enrolled," he said.
Kemp said he wanted to use $10 million from emergency education relief funds at his discretion to direct to families of students with special needs, "to reimburse expenses parents and guardians have incurred while providing a quality education to their loved ones during COVID-19."
And he proposed using $5 million to establish a pilot program to help college juniors and seniors who have fallen behind on tuition payments to finish their education.
"These hardworking Georgians have nearly crossed the finish line of their higher education and I believe the least we can do is ensure that financial hardship at the hands of COVID-19 does not stand in the way of them achieving their dreams," he said.
Kemp said Georgia's future well-being "will be determined by out shared commitment to education, to students, parents, teachers and school staff" and that his own commitment to education "will never waver."