The 2018 Georgia budget will provide for a 2 percent raise in teachers salaries, though raises for Atlanta Public Schools (APS) teachers will likely be lower.
Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans for the raise in his “State of the State” address on Jan. 11. It is intended to make up for government spending cuts during recent years and to lower the high turnover rate of public school teachers (in 2015, 44 percent of Georgia teachers left within the first five years of employment, according to the Georgia Department of Education).
“They’re trying to address the first-year teacher dropout, and they’re trying to focus on a way to keep successful and good teachers in the classroom,” said Clayton Roberson, an intern working with the Georgia House of Representatives Education Committee. “Hopefully this raise will give them the initiative to go straight into teaching and maybe attract more teachers into the field.”
The measure is reflective of Deal’s repeated prioritization of education issues throughout his tenure in the governor’s office. In the 2015, 2016 and 2017 state budgets, Deal set aside over 50 percent of state funding for education.
“Over the past five years, members of this General Assembly and I have shown our appreciation for our teachers by making public education a priority, and we will do so again this year by appropriating an additional $300 million for K-12 education, which is more than is required to give teachers a pay raise,” Deal said in his 2017 ‘State of the State’ address.
In 2016, Georgia lawmakers promised teachers a 3-percent salary hike. However, only 40 percent of Georgia school districts gave money set aside for the bonuses to teachers. The majority of districts allocated the money to reducing spending cuts. Some rural districts used the funds to cover unpaid teacher furlough days or fill budget gaps.
To combat this problem, Deal said that districts will face less autonomy over expenditure if they do not pay teachers the intended raises.
“We will distribute this money to your local school system, but it is our intention that your local school system pass the pay raise along to you,” Deal said. “If that does not happen, it will make it more difficult next year for the state to grant local systems more flexibility in the expenditure of state education dollars.”
To gain autonomy over salaries, 99 percent of school districts, including APS, signed contracts with the State Board of Education in exchange for increased accountability. For example, districts with such contracts can supplement the state-funded portion of the salary raise with local and federal funding.
“While the terms of the waiver contracts vary by each local school district, many school districts received waivers from the state salary schedule requirements,” GOPB representative Yvonne Turner said. “This means that many of the local school districts still have the flexibility to determine how best to implement teacher salary increases.”
APS paid teachers a 2-percent raise in the current school fiscal year. They also gave eligible teachers a step increase (a raise proportional to length of tenure), which averaged about 1.5 percent. The district said if the state proposes a salary raise, they will adopt one, but that it will likely amount to less than a 2 percent raise.
“The APS teacher salary schedule is much greater than the state minimum salary schedule,” APS Chief Financial Officer Robert Morales said. “As such, the 2-percent increase proposed by the governor on the State Minimum Salary Schedule does not equate to a 2 percent salary increase on the APS salary schedule.”
A study by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GPBI) found that the 2017 budget did not account for inflation. GPBI predicts that this, as well as higher employee premiums including increased healthcare costs, could undermine benefits of salary raises and require districts to spend more on their employees.
Grady mathematics teacher Vicky Vinson noticed a slight salary increase last year. Although Vinson appreciated the raise, she did not think it improved teaching quality at Georgia schools.
“Teachers that have that passion and want to stay in schools to teach will stay,” Vinson said. “I don’t think 2% is going to make a difference. Those of them that are fed up with teaching are going to leave anyways. The raise is not going to affect me.”