By Gov. Brian Kemp
As millions of students and educators prepare to head back to the classroom next month, Marty and I want to assure Georgia’s families that my administration has been hard at work throughout the summer to ensure they return to safe learning environments that provide a quality education where parents play an active role. Through wise investments and policies that empower families while supporting teachers, students and faculty will return to the classroom stronger and safer than ever for the first full school year not impacted by distanced or remote learning.
Education has always been a top priority of my administration. My first year in office, we allocated the first installment of what would ultimately be the largest teacher pay raise in state history and provided $69 million in school safety grants. The following year, we established a robust teacher workforce pipeline to address the growing needs of the field. We also eliminated high-stakes assessments and much more over the course of my first term. This year, we’ve prioritized building on those successes, working with education leaders around the state and the General Assembly.
As the parents of three girls, one of whom taught first grade this past year, Marty and I know just how crucial talented and dedicated teachers are for the success of Georgia’s students, both in and beyond the classroom. That’s why recruiting and retaining the best educators has always been a priority for my administration, one we furthered this year with the passage of the Return-to-Work legislation that enables retired teachers to return to the classroom in high-need areas.
We also took another meaningful step in rewarding our hardworking educators by delivering on the final installment of the largest teacher pay raise in state history this year, providing a $2,000 salary increase for a total raise of $5,000 to every full-time classroom instructor since I took office. Additionally, we provided a $2,000 pay supplement to every teacher, and at least $1,000 extra to each school bus driver, nurse, nutrition worker, and part-time employee of our schools, ensuring all those who contribute to our education system benefit from a well-earned bonus.
I’m proud to say we’re now investing more per K-12 student than ever before in Georgia history, with an additional $1.4 billion in funding between the two budgets I proposed and that were passed by the General Assembly this year alone. On top of this state funding, earlier this year I announced $47 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds that have gone to resources for our students, teachers, and schools. In the coming weeks, I’ll make several additional relief fund announcements to build on that success. When it comes to the next generation, I will always work to invest wisely in their classrooms and futures.
But we also know that the quality of a child’s education is dependent not just on the instruction they receive inside the classroom, but also the engagement of their parents in the learning process. This past legislative session, we worked with the General Assembly to pass legislation that protects parents’ rights when it comes to their child’s education, empowering them to take a more active role in partnering with teachers to ensure young and impressionable minds are not exposed to harmful materials or divisive concepts. With broad support from the Legislature, we enacted policies that will keep divisive ideologies and obscene materials out of our schools and off the ballfield.
These are important priorities, but as parents, Marty and I also want Georgians to know that the safety of every student, teacher, and faculty member is the very top priority of my administration. Providing them a secure environment in which to learn is our paramount duty and is more important than politics. That’s why of the six education roundtables my team has hosted this year alone, three had a focus on school safety, allowing us to hear directly from education leaders, school resource officers, local law enforcement, and other partners responsible for protecting our children. We’ll continue to leverage those close partnerships in the years ahead to keep our schools safe.
Last month, I also announced millions of dollars in new grant funds that will go to school resource officers and law enforcement agencies to further increase school security. Part of those funds will go to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, which will train 400 school resource officers this year alone. Other allotments will go to purchasing tactical kits and other resources for statewide school safety efforts.
In short, this has been a working summer for everyone on my team and our partners devoted to Georgia students, their safety, and their academic and professional success. When it comes to protecting our children and ensuring their futures are bright, we will not quit or slow down. That work will continue well into the new school year and those that follow.