Senate approves budget with more money for schools; Dems say not enough

The Georgia Senate backed a $20.8 billion election-year state budget Thursday that adds more than $300 million in new education spending for teacher raises and additional school days, but some Democrats argued it wasn’t enough.

The spending plan for fiscal 2015 – which starts July 1 – was approved 51-4. Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, who is running for governor this year, and three other Democrats opposed it.

The House passed its version of the budget last month, so the chambers will have two weeks to negotiate a final spending plan before the session is scheduled to end March 20.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said most of the $800 million in new spending in the budget would go to school programs. That includes more than $300 million Gov. Nathan Deal proposed to send to school districts to add class days, end teacher furloughs and possibly give raises.

Deal is up for re-election this year, and his campaign and Carter have already sparred over education spending.

Senate Minority Whip Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, said schools have gotten $7.6 billion less over the past decade than they were supposed to receive based on enrollment. And Democrats said many state employees who have not received raises since before the Great Recession would continue to do without next year, while the cost of their health insurance continues to rise.

“Georgians deserve better,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Tucker. “They deserve an education system that works, they deserve state employees that are well treated.”

The University System takes some cuts in the Senate version of the budget that will part of the debate in the final days. Senate leaders cut university budgets $7.5 million in one area, arguing that the system should have realized administrative savings when it merged some schools last year. Senators also cut $8 million in waivers that college presidents give to out-of-state students to allow them to pay lower tuition.

About $10 million of those “savings” were funneled into a venture capital investment fund Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is also seeking re-election this year, is promoting.

By James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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