Apr 15, 2019

Education Policy Recap from the 2019 Georgia Legislative Session

Georgia began 2019 with the inauguration of a new Governor for the first time in eight years and a new Lieutenant Governor for the first time in twelve years. In their first legislative session, Governor Brian Kemp and Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan both pursued an aggressive agenda signaling that they intend to maintain the commitment of their predecessors to education. Reforming choice and increasing funding and academic performance continued to be critical areas of focus.

Education Funding

On the campaign trail, Governor Kemp promised a $5,000 pay raise for all public school teachers in Georgia. In the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, he succeeded in taking the first steps towards fulfilling that promise. The Georgia General Assembly adopted a $27.5 billion budget for the 2020 Fiscal Year, which included a $3,000 pay raise for certified teachers and certified personnel. Governor Kemp has committed that this is the first installment towards a total raise of $5,000. Continuing their long-time commitment to education, the House and Senate expanded the $3,000 raise to include school counselors, social workers, psychologists, special education specialists, speech and language pathologists, media specialists, and technology specialists. The 8.8 percent increase to the state’s salary schedule accounts for more than half of the $1.05 billion in additional appropriations over the FY2019 budget. Also recognized in the FY2020 budget are bus drivers, lunchroom workers, school nurses and assistant pre-K teachers, who will all receive a 2 percent pay raise.

Following years of austerity cuts and funding reductions, the state fully funded the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula in Fiscal Year 2019 for the first time in more than a decade. In addition to appropriating funds for pay raises, the state will once again fully fund education under the QBE formula in Fiscal Year 2020.

Education Vouchers

Another topic that gained traction this year under new Executive leadership is education vouchers. In 2007, Georgia enacted the “Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Act” to provide students served under an IEP with the option to use public education funds for private schools. In 2008, Georgia enacted legislation to provide tax credits for donations to student scholarship organizations who in turn provide educational scholarships and tuition grants for students to attend nonpublic schools. Lieutenant Governor Duncan has been a vocal proponent of increasing school choice as a means of boosting equity in K-12 education. In 2019, he spearheaded efforts to expand access to private schools by establishing educational scholarship accounts (ESA) through which participating students can use state funds to pay for qualified education expenses, including private school tuition and fees. Under the legislative proposals, students from low-income families, students adopted from foster care, children of active duty military stationed in Georgia, students with an IEP, and students with a documented history of being bullied may qualify for an ESA. In the broadest version of the bill, all students who spent the previous year attending a public school in the state could also be eligible for an ESA. Although the legislation failed to win passage this year, co-sponsor support from Governor’s Floor Leaders in the House and Senate signals that this issue is likely to reemerge in future legislative sessions.

Dual Enrollment

Governor Kemp introduced legislation to stabilize the state’s dual enrollment program and better control future growth. The FY 2020 budget reduced funding for the dual enrollment program to reflect anticipated changes in the program, limiting participation based on grade and GPA. This resulted in a reduction of more than $4.19 million, which is particularly significant given the program’s exponential increase over recent years. Under the proposed legislation, which did not receive final passage, only 10th-12th grade students would be allowed to take dual credit courses in the Technical College System, with the state paying for up to 32 hours of covered academic coursework or 63 hours of covered technical education. Students would have to pay out of pocket for any covered courses after that.