(Headline USA) Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that he wants Georgia to provide grants to school districts to help students catch up on what they might have missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, expand the number of school counselors, encourage teacher aides to become full-fledged teachers and pass a law requiring school lockdown drills.
Kemp unveiled a relatively modest set of K-12 education proposals as part of his second-term re-election effort at an elementary school in Oconee County, the same school where one of his daughters was a teacher last year.
“We have more work to do to address pandemic learning loss, bring more educators and counselors into our schools, and keep our students and staff safe,” Kemp said at Dove Creek Elementary School in Statham, just outside Athens.
The proposed funding pales in comparison to the $6 billion in federal aid that Georgia’s 181 public school districts have gotten during the pandemic. School districts must spend more than $750 million of that money improving academic performance.
Kemp made a $5,000 pay raise for teachers a centerpiece of his agenda when he was running in 2018 and delivered the final chunk of the money this year, but he didn’t propose a pay raise for his second term on Monday.
Kemp is currently leading by a significant margin in the polls in his race against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who also lost the 2018 gubernatorial election to him.
His biggest proposal thus far for what he would do in a second term has been a pledge to use $2 billion in surplus state money to provide $1 billion in state income tax rebates and $1 billion in property tax relief.
Abrams, the former minority leader in the state legislature, has proposed a much more ambitious plan that would involve vast amounts of state spending rather than tax cuts. That would include expanding Medicaid, promoting affordable housing, expanding college financial aid, tightening gun laws and blocking further restrictions on abortion.
Despite his more fiscally conservative approach, the incumbent governor noted that pandemic-related drops in test scores warranted the state’s additional investments in education.
During the 2021-2022 school year, 64% of third graders read at grade level or above, according to results from Georgia’s Milestones standardized tests, while 73% of third graders read at or above grade level during the 2018-2019 school year. Officials attribute the drop to pandemic-related disruptions.
Kemp said he would propose to lawmakers that the state should offer $25 million in grants to school districts using state money to provide additional tutoring, hire non-traditional staff or boost existing services.
“By working with our local school systems and providing targeted funding to bring these kids back up to grade level, I am confident we can lend a helping hand to the students who need it most,” Kemp said.
Kemp also said he would recommend giving districts another $25 million to recruit more counselors statewide. Right now, the state funding formula mandates funding for one counselor for every 450 students, but it has never been fully funded.
The governor also proposed spending $15 million to give $3,000 to paraprofessionals who already have four-year degrees to become certified as teachers.
“These funds will help get more teachers in the classroom and assist Georgians already passionate about our students achieve career success,” Kemp said.
Kemp said he would seek to enhance school safety by passing a law requiring schools to offer “intruder alert drills” once each August and September, with a requirement to report drills to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. Kemp said his proposal would allow parents to opt students out of the drills.
Kemp said he would also propose letting teachers take school safety and anti-gang training, require that school security plans, already legally mandated, be submitted to GEMA, and recommend continuing education for school resource officers.
Georgia provided $69 million in school safety grants in 2019, Kemp’s first year in office, guaranteeing every school $30,000.
Kemp in 2020 backed a reduction in state-required standardized tests. This spring, he signed a package of conservative education bills that regulate the teaching of race and let the state athletic association ban transgender girls from playing high school sports, and that eased parental challenges to books they view as inappropriate.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press