Kemp endorses school vouchers push

Published 5:42 pm Monday, January 15, 2024

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp called on Georgia lawmakers Thursday to pass a private school vouchers bill, a perennial issue before the legislature that has failed to make it through the General Assembly.

“I believe we have run out of ‘next years,’ ” Kemp said during his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia House and Senate. “I firmly believe we can take an all-of-the-above approach to education, whether it’s public, private, homeschooling, charter or otherwise.

“It is time for all parties to get around a table and agree on the best path forward to provide our kids the best educational opportunities we can – because that’s what we were elected to do.”

Email newsletter signup

The Senate passed legislation last year to provide Georgia students in low-performing schools with $6,000 scholarships to pay for private school or certain other educational costs. But the bill died in the House when a coalition of Democrats and rural Republicans joined forces to block it.

Democrats have long opposed vouchers as taking tax dollars away from public schools. Rural Republicans expressed concerns that vouchers wouldn’t help their constituents because of the scarcity of private schools in rural communities.

Kemp spent much of his 34-minute speech pitching more than $2 billion in new spending proposals aimed at taking advantage of an unprecedented budget surplus. He already had outlined most of those plans at previous news conferences and at Wednesday’s Eggs and Issues breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

The list includes accelerating the state income tax cut that took effect this month, pay raises for state employees and public school teachers, $104 million to enhance school safety, and an increase of $205 million in mental health spending.

The governor, a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate after his term expires in 2026, also devoted a good part of Thursday’s address to paint a picture of government in Georgia as different from its dysfunctional federal counterpart.

“Congress has become synonymous with runaway spending, bloated budgets, job-killing regulations, gridlock and partisanship, and elected representatives in both parties who are more interested in getting famous on cable news than delivering results for the American people,” he said.

“I promised to put hardworking Georgians first, fund our priorities like education, public safety, and health care, but also keep government efficient, responsible, and accountable.”

After Kemp’s remarks, legislative Democrats vowed to continue their fight against vouchers and took the governor to task for not supporting a full expansion of Georgia’s Medicaid program. While there have been conversations under the Gold Dome about fully expanding Medicaid after years of resistance by Kemp and his Republican predecessors, the governor made no mention of the issue Thursday.

“He is using his political power to block Medicaid expansion and defund public schools,” said Rep. Billy Mitchell, D-Stone Mountain, chairman the House Democratic Caucus.

As Kemp was completing his address, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget released a $37.5 billion mid-year budget request and a $36.1 billion spending proposal for fiscal 2025. The legislature’s budget writing committees will meet for three days next week to review the two budgets.