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Georgia governor talks education, public safety in State of the State address

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Georgia governor talks education, public safety in State of the State address

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivered the State of the State Address to a joint session of the state House and Senate on Thursday, Jan. 11. Photo is a screenshot of the livestream.

Atlanta, GA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivered the State of the State Address on Thursday, Jan. 11, during a joint session of the state House and Senate. Kemp highlighted his priorities related to education, law enforcement and health care.

According to the governor, the state of Georgia is strong, growing and prosperous.

The state’s amended 2024 budget and fiscal year 2025 budget allocates about $12.8 billion toward education. Kemp plans to allocate $104 million to local schools to go toward school security.

“Since I took office, I have had the opportunity to hold more than 30 roundtable discussions with educators and superintendents from all over this state,” Kemp said. “We heard frequently that our schools were in need of additional resources to enhance this security.”

Schools will be able to determine how they spend that money, and it could go toward personnel, like school resource officers or physical and technology improvements.

“This investment is more significant because it will enable schools and administrators to plan accordingly, knowing that this money is headed their way for this specific purpose,” Kemp said.

The budget includes funding for pay increases for all state employees, including teachers, as well. State employee pay would increase by 4% if the budget is approved.

Kemp also offered some support for school vouchers, which could increase the odds of action on the measure by the General Assembly. School vouchers provide publicly shared money to parents to withdraw their kids from public school and send them to private school or homeschool them, according to the Georgia Recorder.

“Over the last few years, there has been a great deal of debate around different proposals to expand options for students and families when it comes to finding the education that best fits their individual needs,” Kemp said. “At the end of the day, our first and foremost consideration should be the future of that student. Our job is not to decide for each family, but to support them in making the best choice for their child.”

State Sen. Elena Parent (D – Senate District 42) said she was pleased to hear Kemp highlight education in his address, but said she differs on how to approach investing in the state’s education infrastructure.

The proposal to invest in school transportation, safety, and literacy is significant, but the proposed investment isn’t sufficient, Parent said.

“Vouchers are a dis-investment in public education because they essentially steal funds from the public sector and transfer them to the private sector. Vouchers will mean choices for some at the expense of others,” she said.

The “all-of-the-above approach” could spread the state’s limited resources thinly.

“This will result in poor quality across the board, preventing all children from accessing quality education that will enable them to develop into tomorrow’s workforce,” Parent said. “We have a budget surplus. We lack the political will and commitment to invest wisely.”

Since taking office, Kemp has been focused on public safety. During his speech, Kemp recognized the state Troopers who were involved in the shooting of an activist at the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.

“Bipartisan majorities of both chambers, the [Atlanta] mayor, and myself all agree on the critical need for the completion of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center,” Kemp said. “This facility will provide our law enforcement officers, firefighters and additional first responders the critical tools, knowledge, and skills needed to keep themselves and our communities safe.”

“As long as I’m your governor, there will be no gray area or political double talk: We support our law enforcement officers. We support our firefighters and first responders. And the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center should be built – period,” he added.

Kemp also promised to provide additional pay increases to law enforcement officers this year of $3,000 for State Patrol officers.

“These investments will not only serve as a renewal of our commitment to these law enforcement officers but will also support our ongoing recruitment and retention efforts,” Kemp said. “I’m also urging the General Assembly to complete what we started last year and give final passage to the peace officer loan repayment program.”

When it comes to health care and mental health, the governor’s proposed budget includes an increase of $205 million for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities and other entities to address mental health, Kemp said.

“This new funding will enable DBHDD to expand services for those struggling with mental illness, it will increase the number of crisis beds throughout the state, it will further crisis intervention resources in all communities, and improve the quality of mental health services overall,” he said. “Once passed, we will be spending 1.6 billion dollars on mental health – more than ever before.”

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D – Decatur), who sponsored the Mental Health Parity Act, was pleased to hear Kemp highlight funding for mental health and the DBHDD.

“This money follows the mental health reform recommendations for additional crisis beds and services that have been a focus for me,” Oliver said.

Democrats are also looking for Medicaid to be expanded in the state as well, something Kemp did not mention in his speech.

“He failed to mention items I was looking for – Medicaid rate increases for health care providers and expanded Medicaid of health care for mothers and children who are losing Medicaid coverage at a rapid rate,” Oliver said. “There is much work left to do.”

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