ATLANTA — In his State of the State address Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp made education a high priority — endorsing fully restoring the state education budget to pre-pandemic levels, teacher pay raises and bonuses for school staff.
Facing a primary challenge in his re-election campaign and looking to win back the conservative voting base loyal to former President Donald Trump, the governor also staked out ground on socially contentious education issues such as Critical Race Theory and how trans students participate in school sports.
On budgetary matters, Gov. Kemp said during his address that he will recommend his fiscal year 2023 budget proposal fully restore the state's education spending to pre-pandemic levels (Georgia fiscal years begin in the summer, so this would take effect for the next school year starting in the fall).
The governor also endorsed a $2,000 pay raise for Georgia teachers in his fiscal year 2023 budget — which would complete a $5,000 raise he promised back in 2019. Teachers first saw a $3,000 raise that year.
Additionally, Kemp said he would propose one-time bonuses in his amended 2022 fiscal year budget of $2,000 for full-time, state-funded educational staff, school support staff and administrators, as well as a $1,000 one-time bonus for bus drivers, nurses, nutrition workers and part-time employees.
The governor established several positions on highly charged issues that could now come to the forefront of the current Georgia General Assembly legislative session, as well.
"From the classroom to the ball field, there are those who want to divide our kids along political lines, push partisan agendas, and indoctrinate students from all walks of life. This is wrong, it’s dangerous, and as long as I’m governor, it will not take root in Georgia," Kemp said.
Democrats touched on these issues in their official response to Kemp's address, with Georgia House Minority Leader Rep. Dr. James Beverly saying: "It’s clear that the Governor’s Education Program has failed us, and change is needed now. But instead of taking on these issues, the majority party has chosen to focus on banning books and censoring teachers. Let’s get serious folks. We can’t afford to fall short for another session."
The governor said he would support legislation to "address obscene materials online and in our school libraries," a conservative priority that has emerged in states like Texas that opponents have likened to school censorship.
Kemp also explicitly endorsed legislation that would keep Critical Race Theory "out of our schools" as well as a parents' educational bill of rights — a legislative framework that has emerged elsewhere as another conservative priority to give parents more of a hand in how their students interact with classroom materials, presentations and educational topics.
Less explicitly, Kemp also signaled support for the kinds of laws that have regulated how transgender students participate in school athletics, saying he would support legislation to "ensure fairness in school sports." Such laws in states like Texas have been premised on "fairness." The governor's communications director retweeted a post on Twitter made during the speech that framed Kemp's position as "Save Girls Sports."
Conservative bills on trans participation in school sports have typically targeted trans girls participating in girls' sports.