The fourth week of Session was mostly committee work, as we start to trend towards larger legislation. I am working on many Military Bills and a Master Teacher bill in education, all of which are moving through the committee process nicely.
The biggest thing we did this week in the House was to approve the amended or “small” budget. Due to the booming prosperity that Georgia has been experiencing these past few years, revenue went up by 1.6 percent more than anticipated, adding almost half a billion dollars. Keep in mind: this was with a half a billion-dollar tax cut we enacted last year … and due to our very conservative budget, Georgians remain the second least taxed citizens in the nation.
About $112 million went to health and human services. We provided nearly $55 million to help hurricane-wrecked farmers in southwest Georgia during the Special Session last November and added another $10 million to these tillers of the soil in the Amended Budget. We also added a total of $50 million to the Forestland Protection grant.
But the vast majority of the new monies went to children. Nearly $237 million went directly to our K12 Public Schools. Another $3.5 million went to shore up the incredibly successful Dual Enrollment Program, and another $87 million went to K-12 Public School safety and Mental Health Counselors. Governor Kemp is dedicating $30,000 to each and every school to improve safety, and he’s also putting a mental health counselor in every school. Nearly every school tragedy that we hear about in the news stems from a mental health issue.
Why do we spend so much money on children? The surprising fact is that we have a lot of them, 2.5 million, meaning that nearly one in four Georgians is a child. In fact, Georgia has the 5th highest ratio of children to adults of any state, which helps to explain the paradox that while Georgia is the third highest in the nation of whose state budget goes to education, we are 37th in the nation in per child expenditures.
Georgia teachers are doing a fabulous job, producing the best test scores we’ve ever had. Still, only 37 percent of our young children are reading on grade level. Atlanta is the 8th strongest economy in America, yet Georgia ranks 10th highest in people living in poverty. 23 percent of our children live below the poverty level, and 35 percent live in a single-family home. About 8 percent of our children are without Healthcare, a number that is thankfully trending lower. Almost half of the counties in Georgia do not have a single pediatrician, and 16 percent of our children do not have a dentist. One-third of our kids are obese, yet 20 percent don’t have enough to eat.
Mental Health is another huge problem, as one in ten teens are depressed. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among teens in Georgia, and the vast majorities of them do not receive the Mental Health services they need.
It’s easier to build strong children than to fix broken men. Georgia teachers have made tremendous strides, and the schools in Newton and Morgan are doing exceptionally well. But there is no question that more needs to be done in some of these depressed areas.
There is a direct and provable link between prison populations and graduation rates. This has been demonstrated in countless studies. It costs about $90,000 a year to detain a prisoner. It only costs $9000 a year to educate a child.
I’d prefer to bet on our children.
I hope you will continue to pray for me as I serve the people of Newton and Morgan counties. You may contact me at 706-372-4114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belton is a Republican from District 112, serving in the Georgia House of Representatives.