After the raise led Kemp’s 2018 offer, he offers a new K-12 plan

STATHAM, Ga. (AP) — Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday he wants Georgia to give grants to school districts to help students catch up on what they may have missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Increase the number of school counselors, encourage teacher assistants to become full teachers, and pass a law mandating school lockdown drills.

Kemp unveiled a relatively modest set of K-12 educational proposals as part of his second-term re-election campaign at an Oconee County elementary school, the same school where one of his daughters was a teacher last year.

“We still have more work to do to address the pandemic learning loss, get more educators and counselors into our schools, and protect our students and staff,” said Kemp at Dove Creek Elementary School in Statham, just outside Athens.

Kemp made a $5,000 teacher pay rise a centerpiece of his agenda when he ran for office in 2018 and delivered the last chunk of the money this year, but he didn’t propose a pay rise for his second term on Monday.

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is running against Kemp again after narrowly losing to him in 2018, has proposed increasing the average teacher salary to $75,000 over four years and guaranteeing a starting salary of $50,000. The plan would cost $1.65 billion in new spending over four years, Abrams said.

Kemp has made few promises about what he would do in a second term. His biggest proposal was a pledge to use $2 billion in excess federal funds to provide $1 billion in state income tax refunds and $1 billion in property tax breaks. Abrams has proposed a much more ambitious plan, including expanding Medicaid, promoting affordable housing, expanding financial aid for colleges, tightening gun laws and blocking further abortion restrictions.

Kemp said he will propose to lawmakers that the state should offer $25 million in grants to school districts that use state funds to provide additional tutoring, non-traditional staffing, or to improve existing services.

In the 2021-2022 school year, 64% of third graders are reading at grade level or higher, according to Georgia’s Milestones standardized test results, while 73% of third graders are reading at grade level or higher in the 2018-2019 school year. Officials attribute the drop to pandemic-related disruptions.

“By working with our local school systems and providing targeted funding to get these children back up to grade level, I’m confident we can extend a helping hand to the students who need it most,” Kemp said.

However, the $25 million pales in comparison to the $6 billion in federal aid Georgia’s 181 public school districts have received during the pandemic. School districts must spend more than $750 million of that money to improve school performance.

Kemp also said he would recommend giving districts an additional $25 million to recruit more counselors nationwide. Currently, the government funding formula requires funding for one counselor for every 450 students, but it has never been fully funded. The governor also proposed spending $15 million to award $3,000 to paraprofessionals who already have four-year degrees to become certified teachers.

“These funds will help bring more teachers into the classroom and help Georgians who are already passionate about our students achieve career success,” Kemp said.

Kemp said he will seek to improve school security by passing legislation requiring schools to offer “intruder warning drills” once in August and September, with a requirement to report drills to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency. Some worry such exercises will traumatize students, but Kemp said his suggestion would allow parents to exclude students from the exercises.

Kemp said he will also propose that teachers take school safety and anti-gang training, require that school safety plans, which are already required by law, 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, and guaranteed $30,000 to each school.

In 2020, Kemp campaigned for a reduction in federally mandated standardized testing. This spring, he signed a package of conservative education legislation that regulates racial classes, allows the state athletic association to ban transgender girls from high school sports, and eases parental challenges to books they see as inappropriate.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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