“... We will spend almost $8 billion in next year’s budget on K-12 education,” Deal said in his annual State of the State address. “My proposal represents the largest single year increase in K-12 funding in 7 years. That’s an addition of $547 million, an increase of over half a billion dollars in one year for our local school systems.
“It will enable us, in partnership with local school districts to restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries. These funds will provide our local school systems with the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers.”
Bartow County School System Superintendent John Harper weighed in on Deal’s announcements. He said while he supports teacher raises, he hopes part of the $547 million will go toward Quality Based Education funding.
“If he puts more money in the [Quality Based Education] funding formula, that will let us essentially give teachers a raise by putting instructional days back in,” Harper said. “I haven’t heard that, but I’m hoping that’s what he does.”
Bartow County has issued teacher furloughs for the last three years as a cost cutting measure.
While Cartersville City School’s Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said the system is fortunate it has not faced teacher furloughs, austerity cuts have created problems for the school system. For example, in 2012 the Cartersville Board of Education approved the reduction of 22 paraprofessionals and raised the property tax rate the same year.
“We were expecting some monies to come back to the system and we were hoping he was not going to dictate what that exactly was, but give systems the flexibility [to spend],” Clouse said. “... It’s not additional money, it’s just restoring what has been cut. In Cartersville, over the last 10 years, we have had in excess of $17 million in austerity cuts, a little over $8 million in the past three years, but we have been more fortunate than other systems that had to make some of the stringent cuts.”
Technical College System of Georgia
“... Last year we identified three areas of study in our technical colleges where jobs already existed. Those were commercial driving, practical nursing and early childhood education,” Deal said. “For students who pursued those areas, we have paid 100 percent of their tuition through the HOPE Grant. This year I am asking you to expand that to an additional four areas of training—welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology.
“In order to fill the needs of a growing economy, we need more of our citizens to acquire education and skills beyond high school. To encourage this, I am asking you to create a new Zell Miller HOPE Grant for students in our technical college system. This grant will cover 100 percent of tuition for those who maintain a 3.5 grade point average.
“In addition, my budget will include $10 million for a 1 percent interest loan program devoted solely to students attending our technical colleges. This will allow students who have a financial need to cover the funding gap in tuition, books and fees. I am also recommending that the Hope Scholarship and the HOPE Grant be awarded at 103 percent of the amount last year.”
Rebecca Long, specialist for public relations for Chattahoochee Technical College, said more than three-fourths of CTC students rely on HOPE and other forms of financial aid to fund their academic career.
“The renewed focus on HOPE Grant and additional funding for technical colleges like Chattahoochee Technical College is great endorsement of our importance in the future of Georgia’s economy and its workforce,” Long said. “By focusing additional funding in critical areas such as welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology, the pathway is widening for students to enter these fields as the need continues to grow. The proposal for additional scholarship and loan opportunities for student in Georgia’s technical colleges would strengthen Chattahoochee Technical College’s ability to be a college of access to all Georgians wanting an education.
“While students and prospective students will surely find the changes to the program new and different, they will still find that CTC has reasonably priced tuition for a quality education. Our financial aid staff will be working with students to provide individual assistance in an effort to bring their academic and professional goals closer to reality.”
“As we search for more effective ways to deliver quality education to our students, I have included $44.8 million in the budgets to better connect every classroom in Georgia, including those in rural areas, to the internet and digital resources students need to thrive,” Deal said. “This is part of the recommendations of the Digital Learning Task Force. It is also compatible with the Innovation in Teaching competition I initiated last year, whereby Georgia Public Broadcasting is videotaping some of the best teachers in our state and making them available to other schools.
“It is my goal that every child in any classroom in our state will have access to the best instruction possible, and this can be done by expanding the availability of our online learning.”
Deal said in order for students to acquire a post-secondary education, they must also have a quality pre-K program.
“Because of the progress we have made and Georgia’s existing 20-year investment in what is now recognized as one of the best pre-K programs in the country, we have been awarded an Early Learning Challenge Grant of over $50 million,” Deal said. “This money will be used to accelerate the reforms that we implemented last year.”
“This year, we intend to roll out our third leg of our criminal justice reforms, the one that will sustain our previous efforts. If an offender has been equipped to enter the workforce upon release, that person will stand a greater chance of avoiding relapse,” Deal said. “If our reentry and reform efforts reduce our recidivism rate by 25 percent, we would see around 1,400 fewer crimes each year, with at least 1,100 fewer victims. This is a goal we should be able to achieve or exceed.
“These criminal justice reforms will allow non-violent offenders to break their addictions, reclaim their lives and keep taxpayers from spending $18,000 per inmate for each year they are in prison. These reforms will also increase the safety of our society.”
Deepening the port
“In the budget I am submitting to you, I have included $35 million for the deepening of the Port of Savannah. If approved, we will have $266 million, which will represent Georgia’s share of this important project,” Deal said. “I intend for us to start dredging the project this year. This was first authorized by Congress in 1999.
“Approximately 50 percent of the cost of this project will be devoted to environmental mitigation. In addition, the project has been approved by four separate federal agencies. We have studied and planned long enough. It’s time to start moving dirt.”
Deal also touted his administration’s education spending and job creation record.
“Since spending on education has always been the largest part of our state budget, representing over half of all spending, it was to be expected that it would be reduced during these hard times. However, during my administration, funding for education has increased by over $930 million,” Deal said. “That does not include capital spending for education, which represents 76 percent of our entire state bond package. $239 million of this year’s capital investments went to the Department of Education for use on K-12 programs.
“Since FY 2012, nearly 50 cents of every dollar of new revenues has been dedicated to education. In the budget I am sending you for FY 2015 almost 82 percent of new revenue receipts are dedicated to education, with 68 percent of those new revenues going to K-12 alone.
“Total state funding for K-12 education has increased each year I have been governor. Funding for Quality Basic Education, the outdated formula that allocates revenue to the local school districts, has increased roughly 13 percent since FY 2011.”
He continued, “My focus on job creation is paying off. According to the federal department of labor, in the three years since I became governor, there have been approximately 217,000 new jobs added in our state, and major job announcements are almost a weekly occurrence. As a result, our state unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 5 years.”