Extending a Helping Hand: Georgia Senate Expands Budget for Education and Health Care

The+senators+have+added+%241+million+to+the+budget+to+buy+more+school+buses%2C+bringing+the+total+to+%2439.6+million%2C+enough+to+buy+a+projected+513+buses.+

Ashley Meyer

The senators have added $1 million to the budget to buy more school buses, bringing the total to $39.6 million, enough to buy a projected 513 buses.

Ashley Meyer

On Tuesday, February 9 the Georgia Senate passed a budget that increases spending on K-12 education and public healthcare. This budget will fund the state through June 30. The new budget passed unanimously with a 52-0 vote, which means it will most likely have quick negotiations with the House before coming up with the final deal. The lawmakers are hoping for the budget to move quickly because at any time a COVID-19 outbreak could occur and they would have to stop meeting.

 

This budget increases spending by $654 million dollars after the $2.2 billion were cut last June during the pandemic. The House, Senate, and Governor Kemp proposed to backfill 60% of the spending reductions that occurred last year when they feared the state’s revenue would plummet due to the virus. One of the major cuts last year was a $950 million dollar cut in K-12 school funding.  

 

The state’s revenue did not plummet though, in fact, state tax collections increased this past fiscal year. Although lawmakers fear there could be higher-than-usual income tax refunds the state could still be on pace for $1.5 billion more in revenue than last year leading to more money that can be moved into savings accounts and used for this fiscal year’s spending. The lawmakers are happy about this and Committee Chairman Blake Tillery said, “It’s certainly a lot better position than we were in when we stood here last year.” With this financial position amidst the pandemic, they feel they can increase the budget in many areas that need it, such as education and health care that they failed to fully fund in the last fiscal year. 

 

One of the major cuts last year was a $950 million dollar cut in K-12 school funding, so this fiscal year there will be a large increase in the budget for education to make up for the cuts of the last year. The budget includes Governor Kemp’s plan to add $567 million dollars in funding to the state’s K-12 funding formula. This includes money to pay for 500 new school buses, as well as proposals to add high-speed internet to rural areas for those who have been forced to do school online during the pandemic among other ventures.

 

While most members of the Roswell community are fortunate enough to have high-speed internet, there are many students in the Roswell community and throughout Georgia that have struggled during the pandemic because they have not had internet access. Roswell High teacher Rebecca Glover said, “Bringing high speed internet to rural areas levels the playing field and makes education more accessible for all students.  It is a great idea, and I am all for it.” The Senate hopes that with additional funds the state can bring internet to areas that previously struggled, so students can have a better learning experience both as the pandemic continues and when school gets back to normal. Mrs. Glover said, “In some areas, school is still 100% virtual and without equal access to high-speed internet many students are not able to access classes at their school, but also higher-level resources, like those from the College Board are not accessible to these students.” These resources can make a major difference in a students ability to learn their curriculum, so having high speed internet will greatly improve their learning at home. Many people share this sentiment and hopefully, the senate’s plan will be carried out smoothly. 

 

Another area that received an increase in the budget was public healthcare. Although Kemp and Georgia’s lawmakers have faced some criticism for not boosting state funding for the Department of Public Health before and during the pandemic, they have now added money for the chief medical officer, deputy commissioner, and chief data officer in the budget. They have also included $27 million to modernize a computer system that tracks immunizations and adds positions for a programmer and financial manager. Senator Tillery said, “We’ve heard from you and your constituents you’re having difficulty scheduling,” and the Senate has taken action to change that. 

 

These increases seem like a lot, but some senators still believe they should include more money for health care. Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler said, “I believe we could have done more, we should have done more.” Last year many cuts were made due to the pandemic, but the hope is that with the increase in spending this fiscal year healthcare and quality education will be readily available for everyone in the state. 

 

For more information on how coronavirus has affected the Georgia budget, click here.

For more notes on the Senate session on February 2, 2021, click here.

Over the past year many schools have gone online, to create a safer learning environment during the pandemic, but this left many students at home with slow or no internet. The new budget includes money to help give these students high-speed internet so they can continue to be successful in thee classroom and stay safe. (Ashley Meyer)