Lawmakers Dive Into Gov. Kemp’s Education Funding Proposals
Members of the House and Senate appropriations committees learned more about Gov. Brian Kemp’s education spending proposals from State School Superintendent Richard Woods on Wednesday, Jan. 18. In the second day of their joint committee meetings, Woods and Rusk Roam, chief financial officer for the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), described notable additions in the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2023 and Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget proposals, including a $2,000 pay raise for state-funded certified staff, funding for school counselors, one-time safety grants for every school, and an increase in the employer share of the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP). (See PAGE’s Day 4 Capitol Report for more information on Kemp’s budget proposals.)
Woods and Rusk fielded questions from legislators including one from Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry) about the impact on school districts from the increase in the employer share of the cost of health insurance under the SHBP. The employer share is set to rise to $1,580 per month for each participating employee from the current level of $945. Woods and Rusk indicated they are gathering additional information, but stated it could impact districts. (See below for more information on the SHBP.)
Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus) asked about pandemic-driven learning loss, a question echoed by Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia). Woods said the pandemic affected districts differently, and districts differ in their strategies to support students. Noting that data on student learning continues to be collected and analyzed, he described the impact as varying across student groups but expressed confidence that students would be able to overcome lost learning time.
Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Cataula) expressed concern about low retirement benefits for bus drivers and other classified staff members who do not participate in the Teachers Retirement System. Woods agreed that is a point of significant concern and said it is a topic for discussion with the legislature.
TRS in Strong Financial Position
Dr. Buster Evans, executive director of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia (TRS), updated lawmakers on the financial position of the system on the first day of the joint appropriations meeting. He reported that TRS has a funding ratio of 81 percent, placing the system in the top third of pension plans in the United States. Evans outlined recent changes TRS has made to enhance the long-term financial strength of the $87 billion retirement system. These changes include lowering the assumed rate of return and diversifying a small portion of TRS funds into alternative investments, an asset class which is currently outperforming traditional equities. Information presented on TRS is included in this PowerPoint, which also contains information on the SHBP as well as other state agencies. A video of the committee meeting is available HERE.
Funds Added to SHBP to Cover Growing Healthcare Costs
Caylee Noggle, commissioner of the Department of Community Health (DCH), described vulnerabilities in the SHBP’s finances. She explained the plan’s expenditures grew by nearly 108 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2022 primarily due to general healthcare inflation. If revenues remain unchanged, expenditures will exceed revenues by $716 million in the current fiscal year and by $808 million in FY 2024. As described above, the governor included an increase of $635 in the monthly per member cost for the SHBP paid by employers in his AFY 2023 and FY 2024 budget proposals to address this shortfall.
Budget Process Next Steps
Now that Joint Appropriations meetings have concluded, House appropriations subcommittees will begin a detailed look at the AFY 2023 budget. Subcommittee members will hear from agency staff again and continue to gather information as they consider possible revisions to Kemp’s budget proposals.