Gov. Brian Kemp Affirms Commitment to Teacher Pay Raise & Education Department Outlines FY 2021 Spending Plan

Gov. Brian Kemp shared his budget priorities for fiscal year 2021 (FY 2021) with lawmakers at the joint budget hearings of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on Tuesday, highlighting his proposed investment in an educator pay raise. Kemp lauded educators, saying, “Teachers work tirelessly to equip young Georgians with the skills needed.” The state economist gave legislators an overview of the state’s financial health, including a discussion of the decline in state revenues. State Superintendent Richard Woods led a presentation of the Georgia Department of Education’s spending plan for FY 2021 and described plans for the department to take on the work of the Chief Turnaround Officer to improve low-performing schools.

The joint budget hearings, which were held on Tuesday and Wednesday, kick off the legislative phase of the budget process. Following the joint budget hearings, the appropriations committees of both chambers will meet separately to review the changes Gov. Kemp has proposed for the current school year, the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget, and examine his proposed FY 2021 budget. 

Gov. Kemp affirmed his commitment of a $2,000 pay raise for certified Pre-K and K-12 educators, an addition to the $3,000 pay raise he proposed and the General Assembly approved in 2019. Kemp also included a $1,000 pay raise for full-time state employees earning less than $40,000 a year. The governor’s proposed budget also incorporates four percent cuts to the AFY 2020 budget and six percent to the FY 2021 budget. The K-12 funding formula, the Quality Basic Education program, is exempt from these cuts though other education programs and state agencies are not.

State Economist Dr. Jeffrey Dorfman described Georgia’s fiscal health. He included revenue trends and rationale for the cuts ordered by Gov. Kemp. Despite Georgia’s all-time high employment rate, revenue growth has slowed due to a 0.25 percent cut to the state income tax rate passed by the General Assembly in 2018, which resulted in a $500 million revenue drop. The 2018 legislation calls for legislators to consider an additional 0.25 percent rate cut this session. Dorfman reported that state revenues would be short an additional $500 million if the cut is approved by lawmakers.

Responding to a legislator’s question, Dorfman noted that Kemp’s proposed FY 2021 budget does not include the additional tax cut. Another legislator asked Dorfman if there are budget decisions the legislature could make to provide additional revenue growth. Dorfman cited fully funding Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula as the strongest investment policymakers can make as research shows this investment pays for itself over time through increased human capital. Dorfman also said bringing more businesses to the state would help increase revenues, and lowering the tax rate by an additional 0.25 percent would not likely be an effective strategy for doing so