February 12, 2020

Competing Budget Priorities Emerge Between Lawmakers:
An Update on Proposed Teacher Pay Raise
and State Budget Deliberations with Suggested Advocacy
by Claire Suggs
PAGE Senior Education Policy Analyst

Georgia lawmakers are engaged in  a vigorous debate  about the state’s budget. At stake are a $2,000 pay raise for teachers as well as a pay bump for state employees earning less than $40,000 a year, a proposed tax cut that would reduce state revenue by about $550 million, and budget cuts to critical programs across state agencies. Through the insight and commitment of lawmakers, Georgia has made important steps forward in education in recent years. The proposed pay raise for educators would extend these strategic investments by enhancing the appeal of the teaching profession at a time when fewer people are entering the educator workforce and many of those who do quickly leave. It would also help close the large gap between what Georgia teachers earn and what professionals in other sectors with comparable education and experience earn. 

Current Budget Crunch

Georgia’s elected leaders have  competing budget priorities  for the state’s current budget, Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020), and for Fiscal Year 2021, which covers the next budget: pay raises, a tax cut, and impending cuts to state agencies. Gov. Brian Kemp proposed and the General Assembly approved a $3,000 pay raise for teachers and other certified educators in FY 2020. The price tag for that raise was $530 million in state funds. The raise was the first step in fulfilling Kemp’s campaign promise of a $5,000 pay hike for teachers. Kemp proposes a second raise of $2,000 in his FY 2021 spending plan. He also provides a $1,000 salary increase for workers in state-funded positions who earn less than $40,000, such as paraprofessionals in kindergarten classrooms. (Locally funded paraprofessionals working in non-kindergarten classrooms are not included in the state pay raise proposal, as their positions are not state funded). These combined raises for educators in the FY 2021 budget carry an expected cost of $367 million for the state. The total state cost of the $5,000 teacher pay raise over two years is $900 million. 

Leaders of the Georgia House, including Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge),  seek a tax cut , which would reduce the state’s revenue by approximately $550 million. The cut is not included in Kemp’s proposed FY 2021 budget. This would be the second tax cut in three years. In the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers approved cutting the state income tax rate by 0.25 percent, reducing the rate to 5.75 percent from six percent. House leaders would like the rate to come down to 5.5 percent.

The 2018 tax cut helped set the stage for the third source of disagreement about the budget: four percent cuts to the FY 2020 budget, which are outlined in Kemp’s proposed Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY 2020) budget, and an additional six percent cut in the FY 2021 budget. State revenues have dropped due to the 2018 tax cut as well as other factors including constrained economic growth, increases in state tax expenditures such as tax credits for donations to support private school vouchers, and revenue sources that have not been fully leveraged such as the tobacco tax, which is the third lowest in the nation. 1

While the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula that funds K-12 education is exempt from the cuts, other programs in the Georgia Department of Education are not. Programs slated to be cut include:

  • Career, Technical Education and Agriculture (CTAE) equipment grants
  • Curriculum development
  • Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs)
  • School Improvement
  • Testing

Programs operated by other state agencies are in line for cuts as well. These include:

  • Childcare and Parents Assistance Program for low-income families 
  • Grants to county health departments 
  • Adolescent and adult health promotion programs
  • Public libraries
  • GED testing and vocational certification in correctional facilities
  • Hiring freeze or job elimination in correctional facilities 
  • Eliminating vacant casework positions in child protection and foster care
  • Eliminating vacant child support services agent positions 

Proposed cuts to the AFY 2020 budget total approximately $148 million and $300 million in the FY 2021 budget. 2   A detailed analysis of Kemp’s budget proposals is available  here

Teacher Salaries in Georgia

The $3,000 pay raise for teachers funded through the QBE formula in the FY 2020 budget was an important step forward in improving the wage competitiveness of the Georgia teaching profession. Prior to this, the state’s salary schedule for teachers had been increased only once since 2009 when the General Assembly approved a two percent bump to the salary schedule in fiscal year 2018. This stagnation meant starting salaries for new teachers did not keep pace with inflation. 
The proposed $2,000 pay raise would bring the starting salary for new teachers up to approximately the level it was in 2007 when adjusted for inflation. 

If awarded, the raise would also address the sizable gap between what Georgia teachers earn compared to other professionals in the state with comparable levels of education and experience. Georgia teachers across education and experience levels earned about two-thirds of what professionals in other sectors were paid in 2016. 3

Education Funding Landscape

The picture of state funding for K-12 schools in Georgia is complex. Recent infusions of money have helped offset years of budget cuts, but unmet needs continue in critical areas. From 2003 through 2018, the General Assembly failed to provide the full amount of funding the QBE formula calculated districts needed to serve their students. In the wake of the Great Recession, $1 billion was cut from the QBE annually for five consecutive years. After several years of restoring portions of QBE, lawmakers eliminated the austerity cut completely in fiscal year 2019. The QBE was fully funded that year as well as in 2020, and Kemp proposes to do so again in 2021. 

Legislators have also invested in the educator workforce. In addition to the recent and proposed pay raises, they increased funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) by $700 million between 2016 and 2020. This includes educators in the university and technical colleges systems and the Department of Early Care and Learning. (Due to actuarial adjustments, state funding for TRS is set to decrease by $192 million in FY 2021.) 

At the same time, important funding gaps remain, particularly in student transportation, sparsity grants, and resources for low-income students.

  • Student Transportation. Districts spend nearly $1 billion to bus students to and from school safely, but the state covers only about 15 percent of that cost. This percentage is down from about 50 percent in the 1990s, requiring districts to shift local dollars away from the classroom to pupil transportation.4 This issue affects all districts but can have an outsize impact on rural districts where students are far apart and buses often travel on roads in poor condition.5

  • Sparsity Grants. Lawmakers created sparsity grants to address the unique financial circumstances of small schools in rural communities. Fifty-five schools qualify for the grants in FY 2021 and should receive nearly $25 million according to the program’s formula. The amount recommended in Kemp’s proposed budget is $6.7 million.

  • Funding for Low-Income Students. Georgia is one of eight states that does not provide state funding for low-income students.6 These students often have extra needs that require additional support to help them succeed academically but those resources are lacking.7

Lawmakers have made valuable investments in K-12 education, but important work remains. 

Next Steps

The General Assembly must approve the state’s budget, and that process is underway. The House appropriations committees have held meetings to review each section of the proposed AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budgets, including hearing from agency staff and other stakeholders. The PAGE legislative team spoke in support of the proposed pay raise at a  subcommittee hearing  on February 5, 2020.  

After the House appropriations committees complete their budgetary review and make revisions, the AFY 2020 and FY 2021 budgets will move to the full House for a vote and then pass to the Senate. The Senate appropriations committees have begun their review of the governor’s proposed budgets and will also consider any changes made by the House. 

The PAGE legislative team continues to monitor developments closely and engage lawmakers in discussions about the budget. Updates will be provided in PAGE Capitol Reports.  PAGE has also issued an ongoing advocacy alert , encouraging educators and education stakeholders to contact legislators now regarding the state budget and proposed pay raise.  As always, educators should contact policymakers outside of instructional time using personal (not school) electronic devices and email accounts.   


1  Kanso, D. (2020). Overview of Georgia’s 2021 fiscal year budget. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from  https://gbpi.org/2020/overview-of-georgias-2021-fiscal-year-budget/
2  Ibid.
3   Baker, B., Di Carlo, M., & Weber, M. (2019). School finance and teacher pay competitiveness. Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from  http://schoolfinancedata.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/SFID_TeacherWageBrief_July2019.pdf
4   Suggs, C. (2018). Shrinking state funds trigger student bus safety concerns. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from  https://gbpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018-Georgia-Student-Transportation-Report.pdf
5   Georgia School Boards Association. (2019). GSBA rural task force recommendations. Retrieved from  https://gsba.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/2019_GSBA_RTF_Recommendations_.01.pdf
6  Owens, S. (2019). Education in Georgia’s black belt: Policy solutions to help overcome a history of exclusion. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from  https://gbpi.org/2019/education-in-georgias-black-belt/
7  Suggs, C. (2017). Tackle poverty’s effects to improve school performance. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. Retrieved from  https://gbpi.org/2017/tackle-povertys-effects-improve-school-performance/

Claire Suggs
Senior Education Policy Analyst
Josh Stephens
Legislative Affairs Specialist
Margaret Ciccarelli
Director of Legislative Services