TUCKER, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams is proposing a big teacher pay raise in her run for governor, saying Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's much-touted $5,000 across-the-board increase is not enough to recruit new teachers and retain current teachers.
“We are losing the fight for our children’s future,” Abrams said Sunday as she accepted the endorsement of the Georgia Association of Educators. “We need a governor who does not see education as an election year gimmick, but sees our responsibility as a guarantee for the strongest future for our people.”
Georgia has long had the highest average teacher pay in the South, but Abrams is proposing a $1.65 billion bump over four years. She would raise the typical starting salary to $50,000 from the current level just under $40,000 and increase average teacher pay to $75,000 from $60,553 this past school year, as tracked by the National Education Association.
Abrams said that would boost Georgia, which currently ranks 21st in pay nationwide into the top 10.
Kemp’s $5,000 raise was a signature 2018 promise that he finished delivering this year. But Lisa Morgan, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said Georgia teachers have fallen behind inflation despite that. Federal figures show Georgia teachers made an average salary of $41,023 in 1999-2000. In today’s money, that would be more than $71,000.
“Our educators are underpaid,” Morgan said. “Adjusted for inflation, educators in Georgia are making less now than they did in 1999. We have to attract the best and brightest to be educators. This requires our profession be attractive as a career. It’s not just about salaries. It’s about educators being treated as the professionals we are.”
The average starting salary in Georgia lags a number of other states in the South, including Florida, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia, NEA figures show.
GAE, the state affiliate of the NEA union, is the second-largest teacher group in Georgia. The non-union Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teacher group, declined comment Sunday.
While Georgia has an official state salary schedule, districts have waivers to pay varying amounts. Many districts pay teachers more than the state schedule using local funds. State pay raises can stress districts because they pay additional employees entirely out of local funds beyond state allotments. Districts typically use local tax money to increase those employees' pay when the state raises salaries.
Abrams said 20 years of Republican governors have hurt Georgia's public schools, saying she wanted to be the “public education governor.”
“Sadly, over the last four years, and the last 20 years there have been consistent unadulterated cuts to progress, slashing budgets, and eliminating opportunities, creating division when we should be coming together to lift up our children,” Abrams said.
Morgan criticized Kemp for supporting conservative education bills this year that regulated the teaching of race and let the state athletic association ban transgender girls from playing high school sports. Others codified parents’ rights, forced school systems to respond to challenges of books and increased tax credits for private school scholarships.
Kemp campaign officials questioned how she could give a raise that would be more than twice as large as the one Kemp spearheaded for $1.65 billion when the Kemp administration spent $1 billion on its program.
A Kemp campaign spokesperson also attacked Abrams for wanting to spend too much money. Abrams also wants more than $250 million annually to cover uninsured adults through the Medicaid health insurance program.
“Stacey Abrams’ latest Hail Mary proposal for over $2 billion in new state spending annually joins an ever-growing pile of pie-in-the-sky plans that would make inflation worse and require higher taxes on Georgia families to pay for it all,” spokesperson Tate Mitchell said in a statement.
Abrams, though, said if Georgia tax collections grow at 3% a year, the state would have more than $1 billion in new revenue yearly.
“As the next governor of Georgia. I know that we can actually expand Medicaid in Georgia, and increase teacher pay, and still not raise a single dollar in taxes, and have money left over to fix some more problems in this state,” Abrams said.
Kemp has been courting teachers. Morgan has previously praised Kemp for his pay increase and support for lessening standardized testing.
In some ways, Abrams is playing can-you-top-this with Kemp. She's also calling on Kemp to suspend state gas taxes through year's end.