When the legislature reconvened to complete our legislative session in June, we knew that supporting parents, teachers, students, and their communities was of the utmost importance. To that end, we carefully crafted a budget and passed several pieces of legislation that would support education in our state.
In the budget for Fiscal Year 2021, over $411 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) were sent directly to Georgia’s Title I school districts - school districts that face significant challenges. The budget included additional funding from the CARES Act to support youth camps, residential treatment facilities, and state schools that provide direct instruction to hearing- and visually-impaired students in Georgia. The Georgia Department of Education will distribute additional CARES funds to school districts based on need.
The budget also included $3 million in the bond package for maintenance and rehabilitation priorities at each of the three state schools that provide direct instruction to hearing- and visually-impaired students and $335.5 million for local school construction, renovations, and additions statewide.
The impact of COVID-19 on our state made it even more evident that school nutrition and transportation programs are vital community assets to ensure students have healthy nutritious meals, even when school buildings were closed. The budget maintains funding for both programs, including almost $1 million in additional funds for pupil transportation, taking into account student growth and the need for students to maintain social distancing. The bond package included $20 million for replacing school buses and $1.25 million to provide an incentive for school districts to purchase alternative fuel school buses.
As lottery revenues in Georgia continue to increase, we were able to maintain full funding for Georgia Pre-K, which impacts so many young students and sets them on a path for success at an early age. The budget included a pay supplement for Pre-K teachers, which would provide more equality for Pre-K and K-12 teachers, once training and experience are taken into account.
Beyond the budget, we focused on passing legislation that provided support for students, parents, and teachers. For instance, Senate Bill 367 amends Georgia law relating to the assessment of Georgia students by reducing the number of state assessments students take, particularly in grade five and grades nine through twelve. This bill will help reduce unnecessary testing of students, allowing teachers to teach their students and not teach to a test.
We also passed House Bill 957, which clarified that teachers in charter schools are eligible to participate in state health insurance plans. Senate Bill 430 allows home school or private school students to participate in college and career academies in their local school system if space is available.
As students and teachers head back to school, whether remotely or in-person, Dayle and I are so proud of all the hard work that students, parents, and teachers have done to prepare for the unexpected situation we are all facing. Thank you all for allowing me to represent Georgia House District 159. It is truly an honor to work for you and this great state. If you have any feedback, do not hesitate to call (404.656.5052), email, or engage on Facebook. If you would like to receive email updates, please visit my website to sign up for my newsletter or email me.
Jon Burns represents District 159, which includes parts of Bulloch County in the Georgia General Assembly where he serves as the House majority leader.