ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp got some bipartisan credit Thursday for his pitch to raise teacher salaries in his State of the State speech, but other goals have had a more contentious response.
The governor said he’s adding the raise to his budget and giving bonuses to bus drivers and other school workers.
Kemp doesn’t want his fourth State of the State Address to be his last as he fights an election year challenge from fellow Republican David Perdue.
Much of this year’s speech overlapped with his pitch to Republican voters.
"I look forward to working with members of the General Assembly this legislative session to protect our students from divisive ideologies - like critical race theory – that pit kids against each other," Kemp said in his speech.
Critical race theory is a little-used curriculum that has increasingly popped up as a conservative talking point. No school in Georgia is teaching it.
Kemp also vaguely endorsed efforts to prevent transgender youth from participating in school sports, except with their birth gender. Bills on the topic have popped up in other states like Florida, Minnesota and Missouri.
However, Democrats said Kemp’s argument about those issues was irrelevant.
"The only reason he’s leaning into far right conspiracy theories about CRT and trans youth is because he lost President Trump’s endorsement," said state Rep. Matt Wilson (D-Brookhaven).
But Democrats and teachers did give Kemp a bit of credit for advancing the cause of education in public schools with more money for teachers and school programs, to "completely restore all austerity cuts to education funding in our state that were made during the pandemic," Kemp said in his speech.
It was "a good first step," said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators.
"Educators always want to be recognized and paid as the professionals they are. And again, we have to take those first steps," Morgan said.
Yet Morgan said the state still lacks funding for world-class public education.
"(Increasing the) pay raise was the right thing to do," said state Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), the House Democratic leader. "But Georgia has more to do if we’re going to prevent the kind of staffing losses we’ve seen in recent years."
Kemp also said he would support eliminating the permit required to conceal-carry handguns in Georgia.
"I look forward to supporting constitutional carry legislation this session," Kemp said.
Democrats oppose the legislation.
"We have heard a lot from the governor about the people's need to protect themselves but nothing about safety education or training. Nothing about what responsible gun ownership looks like," said state Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta).
Rebecca Galanti, the spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia, issued her own rebuttal to Kemp's speech which can be read below.
“Today’s State of the State address reeked of election-year grandstanding and showed us that Brian Kemp will continue to shamelessly put politics ahead of the actual needs of Georgia families and kids. If Kemp actually cared about Georgians’ wellbeing, he would fully expand Medicaid or mount a meaningful campaign to protect Georgians from COVID-19 – not work to ban books and put more guns on our streets. Make no mistake: the misguided priorities Kemp outlined today would endanger communities, threaten our kids’ education, and drive our state further apart.
“Despite his best efforts, Kemp will not be able to distract Georgians from his failed leadership with last-minute, long-overdue financial bumps for workers. Today’s address made it clearer than ever that Georgia deserves a strong Democratic governor who will put the people first and invest in hardworking Georgians all the time, not just during an election year. Georgia is ready for change, and come November, voters will make sure that this was Brian Kemp’s final State of the State address.”