Regardless of the financial condition of the state, it is still a worthy exercise to look at needs in the state that deserve new funding. Each budget cycle gives us a chance to evaluate state budget areas where new state funding is needed and worthwhile.
Education investments in counselors
The state provides funding for school counselors through the Quality Basic Education (QBE) program. All QBE earnings are based on student enrollment, counted by school systems as full-time equivalents (FTEs). Through the “basic” QBE earnings formula, the full state salary and benefits of one school counselor is allotted to a system for every 450 FTEs in most earned segments of students, excluding special education and gifted segments. QBE has also has a supplemental grant that provides additional funding for counselors for schools with high concentrations of military students.
There has been consideration and discussion over the past few years of an investment of about $24.5 million to fund counselors at a ratio of 1:450 for all QBE programs. Any investment in additional counselors to systems would provide resources to teachers and students. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) defines the role of the school counselor as helping all students “apply academic achievement strategies, manage emotions and apply interpersonal skills, [and] plan for post-secondary options (higher education, military work force).”
Foster care resources
The rollout of the federal Families First legislation is changing operations and funding for foster care. The Division of Family and Child Services (DFCS) in the Department of Human Services is working to continue serving Georgia’s children. With a strategic plan that covers goals and strategies for safety, self-sufficiency, permanency, well-being, workforce and stakeholders categories, the state has a strong road map to improvement.
A key safety strategy remains to “disseminate funding to community-based organizations that provide primary and secondary prevention services to families in order to prevent child abuse and neglect.” With that end, the funding provided in DHS and DFCS for family supports in working inside communities creates local lasting impacts. Additionally the last two state budgets have supported rate increases for relative caregivers and providers to help defray the cost and ensure Georgia’s out-of-home care populations receive the necessary services and supports. To review the strategic plan, please visit https://dfcs.georgia.gov/2020-2024-strategic-plan.
Elder adult and behavioral health housing support needs
Two areas continue to be areas of need. With an increasing demographic of older adults in the coming years, and with additional needs in the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD), housing supports are an area of need. One is proposed by the Council on Aging, $180,000 per coach per pilot site for a behavioral health coach to assist residents in supported housing situations, reduce evictions and improve overall resident quality of life. In pilot sites, behavioral health coaches help focus on empowering individuals with behavioral health issues through holistic and supportive approaches, backed by clinical support when necessary.
DCA/ housing needs
In addition in FY20 General, $2.6 million for six months was added for DBHDD for specific housing support for clients with additional need to annualize funding and serve eligible individuals with the goal to operate the Georgia Housing Voucher Program (GHVP) without a waitlist.
Correctional officer salary competitiveness
With over 9,000 employees in the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) with the majority comprised of state prison security staff and correctional officers, salary competitiveness continues to be a concern. Given the tight labor market and compensation pressure, making sure the state supports a qualified and appropriately staffed correctional system is important to the keep a safe and stable Georgia. Additionally, the last salary enhancement from FY17 assisted in moving the state correctional officers and the momentum from those gains should not be lost, as more employees see wages and compensation in similar local and federal positions.
Similarly, any compensation increases should also be offset by a reduction in turnover, which in FY17 for GDC and Department of Juvenile Justice combined represented 32% of all state separations with GDC specifically having a turnover rate of 22.9%. In addition, when staffing issues arise, costs for overtime also increase, which has a budget impact. A previous proposal for increases in correctional officer salaries totaled over $21 million.