CAMILLA, Ga. - The $3,000 pay raises that teachers were promised in January became official Friday, when Gov. Brian Kemp signed a record budget for the upcoming fiscal year in Camilla.
Kemp approved the budget during a South Georgia tour, where he held bill signing events and was to attend an anti-gang roundtable discussion.
The budget for fiscal 2020, which takes effect July 1, includes about $27.5 billion in state spending and $53 billion overall, once federal dollars and other money are included.
“This is another step for a safer, stronger, more educated Georgia,” Kemp said.
Kemp called the pay raises a down payment on his campaign promise last year to hike teacher pay by $5,000.
Teacher groups, such as the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, cheered the move.
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“On behalf of our 95,000 members and all Georgia educators, PAGE applauds Gov. Kemp’s signature of the state budget,” said PAGE executive director Craig Harper. “Over the last decade, educators have received a raise on the state teacher salary schedule only one other time. The $3,000 raise will boost educator recruitment and retention statewide.”
It is one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history. Gov. Zell Miller pushed 6 percent pay raises for four years during his second term in the 1990s in an effort to make average teacher pay in Georgia the highest in the Southeast, but increases have been small or nonexistent many years since the Great Recession hit in the late 2000s.
This school year educators received no state-funded cost-of-living increase. Many teachers receive longevity raises or locally-funded increases, but not all.
Atlanta school officials say their teachers may not get the full raise if the city of Atlanta doesn’t come through with money the system says it is owed.
The new budget also includes a 2 percent raise for 70,000-80,000 state employees who have been even less likely than teachers to get increases over the past decade.
It also fully funds the K-12 school formula, which was shorted for more than a decade before Gov. Nathan Deal added money to it during the 2018 session.
And it borrows $150 million for a new voting system in Georgia. The state plans to replace its electronic voting machines with a voting system that has a paper trail.
Most of the increased spending in the budget goes to K-12 schools and public health care, two big-ticket areas of state spending that traditionally grow in a major way each year.
It also provides extra money for mental health and addiction programs and $1.5 million to improve the counting of Georgians in the 2020 census, which makes an impact in areas such as congressional representation and federal funding for some programs.
The spending plan includes $35 million to start upgrading the state’s railroads. That’s something that’s been badly needed for many years to make moving freight to and from Georgia ports easier and faster, said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn.