Education Spending, Funds For Learning Recovery In Election-Year Spotlight
Education Spending, Funds for Learning Recovery in Election-Year Spotlight
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If he is re-elected this November, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia has announced his intention to advocate for a state budget that allocates $65 million to combat pandemic-related learning loss, hire additional guidance counselors, and recruit more teachers.
During a speech on Monday outlining his top education priorities for the next legislative session, Kemp stated his goal of increasing the number of counselors available to address students’ mental health concerns.
"After speaking with school administrators, teachers, and staff, one of the primary concerns I consistently hear is the mental health needs of our students. While we have made important investments in this crucial effort during my first term, we can and should do more," Kemp stated during his remarks at Dove Creek Elementary School in Statham. "Today, school counselors play a vital role in not only assisting students with psychological issues they may be facing, but also in contributing to the overall health, well-being, and long-term success of our future leaders."
According to the American School Counselor Association, Georgia schools had one counselor for every 419 students in 2020 and 2021. Although this is close to the national average of 415 students per counselor, it falls significantly short of the recommended ratio of 250 students per counselor.
An additional $25 million could help bridge this gap, according to Stephen Owens, an education policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
"In my opinion, this is a commendable first step because the pandemic has revealed that we cannot effectively educate students if their mental health needs are not addressed. It has highlighted the crucial role of social-emotional learning and mental health professionals. I have no complaints about adding $25 million to the budget for school counselors, but I hope this is not viewed as a conclusion to the task," he commented.
Kemp’s K-12 budget proposal also includes a $15 million grant aimed at assisting paraprofessionals, individuals who support teachers in the classroom and aid students in various ways, in becoming full-time teachers.
"We currently have more than 9,000 paraprofessionals with four-year degrees working in our schools, but the cost and time required for these hard-working individuals to become certified educators are major obstacles for many," Kemp explained. "To alleviate the financial burden associated with certification, my budget proposal for next year will allocate $15 million to a reimbursable grant program of $3,000 per person. These funds will help increase the number of teachers in the classroom and support Georgians who are already passionate about helping our students succeed in their careers."
Owens praised this initiative, saying, "It is encouraging to acknowledge that financial barriers prevent people from entering the classroom as paraprofessionals. Additionally, considering the value of paraprofessionals in rethinking the teacher pipeline, individuals familiar with the classroom environment and community, it would be beneficial to establish a ‘grow-your-own’ program to nurture them into becoming teachers. This way, we can improve everything without necessarily relying on tax credits to attract individuals from the University of Georgia to rural areas; instead, we can invest in those who are already present in the classroom."
Kemp highlighted state data that revealed a decrease in the percentage of third-graders reading at grade level, dropping from 73% in 2019 to 63% in 2022. He attributed this decline to pandemic-related learning loss and expressed his intention to allocate an additional $25 million to grants aimed at helping these students catch up.
"Schools with students in this category will be eligible to apply for these grants, which can be used to provide additional tutoring services, non-traditional staff, or supplement existing programs addressing learning loss," he explained. "By collaborating with local school systems and providing targeted funds to bring these students back to grade level, I am confident that we can lend a helping hand to those who need it the most."
The governor also presented several proposals to enhance school safety, including updating state laws to include intruder alert drills, voluntary anti-gang and school safety training for new and current teachers, assigning the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security agency to review school safety plans, and recommending continuing education and training updates for all school resource officers every two years.
In June, Stacey Abrams, who is running against Kemp in the Democratic race, unveiled her proposals for educational policy.
Among her priorities for K-12 education, Abrams aims to increase the minimum salary for teachers in the state from $39,092 to $50,000. Additionally, she plans to raise the average teacher pay from $62,500 to $73,500, which would elevate Georgia from being ranked 21st in the nation for teacher salaries to being in the top 10.
Abrams also intends to implement programs that assist paraprofessionals in obtaining their teaching certification while they continue working. This would involve expanding current programs and providing grants. Furthermore, her platform encompasses collaborating with colleges and universities to encourage students to teach in rural areas.
As the upcoming legislative session begins in January, following the November elections, several significant changes may emerge from the 2023 General Assembly. Although Kemp did not mention it in his comments, a group of influential state senators is scheduled to hold their second meeting on Friday to discuss possible revisions to the longstanding Quality Basic Education formula. This formula dictates how education funding from the state is allocated.
Owens acknowledged the existing disparity in school funding, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He expressed hope that the Senate study committee, which has expressed interest in addressing this issue, would bring it to the forefront and create a funding system that better serves Georgians for the next three decades of this formula.
Georgia Recorder is a part of States Newsroom, which is a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors functioning as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder retains editorial independence. For any inquiries, please reach out to Editor John McCosh at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay updated with Georgia Recorder by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
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