During Georgia’s 2017-2018 legislative cycle and throughout the months between those two sessions, the growing GBPI team improved the public policy discourse and, in many cases, state policies changed for the better as a result.
Georgia will fully fund its K-12 education formula for the first time in nearly two decades in the 2019 budget. Just a year after GBPI expanded its higher education research with a focus on benefits of need-based aid, Georgia lawmakers embraced the idea and the governor signed it into law. And over the two-year legislative cycle the GBPI team responded vigorously to repeated attempts to destabilize the state’s tax system.
At the outset of 2018, GBPI launched the People-Powered Prosperity initiative to draw attention to a bold blueprint for Georgia focused on the strategic goals of educated youth, skilled workers, thriving families and healthy communities.
The GBPI team influenced the public debate during the 15 months that spanned the 2017-2018 legislative cycle. More importantly, we helped deliver policy changes aimed at improvements to education, health care and economic opportunity for the people of Georgia.
A summary of our progress follows.
Public School Funding. Georgia will add $167 million to the 2019 budget to fully fund its education formula for the first time in 16 years. For years, GBPI sounded the alarm that the state was shortchanging its own funding formula. The cumulative cut since 2003 amounted to $9.2 billion in lost school funding. Schools responded by shortening school calendars, increasing class sizes and cutting art and music programs.
Aging School Bus Replacement. Lawmakers put $15 million into Georgia’s aging school bus fleet in the 2019 budget, a welcome investment but far short of what’s needed to ensure safe transit for the state’s schoolchildren. Our education analyst outlined the problem during the session.
Private Schools, Public Dollars. It seems like every legislative session a bill emerges to take money from the state budget and shift it to charter schools or student scholarship organizations. And every year GBPI urges more accountability for the publicly subsidized systems. In 2018 a bill passed to increase the private school scholarship tax break pool to $100 million from a cap of $58 million, but the bill that passed includes better accountability measures in the past and a sunset for the $42 million increase.
Need-based Aid. The governor signed a 2018 bill to authorize a new grant for college students that gives weight to financial need. The Georgia Student Finance Commission will establish a needs-based financial aid program for full-time students in the university system, subject to future appropriations. The commission gets flexibility to determine eligibility criteria and grant amounts. GBPI Policy Analyst Jennifer Lee introduced you to Lizzie Mathias, just the sort of college student this could help.
Higher Education Bulletin. Speaking of Jennifer Lee, she is GBPI’s first policy analyst focused solely on equity in post-secondary education. She launched GBPI’s Higher Education Bulletin e-newsletter in 2017 months after joining the team to share her research and other news of interest to Georgia’s college community. You can sign up for the bulletin here.
Higher Education Data Book. Chock full of student profiles, snapshots of Georgia’s colleges and universities and its namesake data, the comprehensive resource for officials, students and parents helped establish GBPI’s growing capacity to lead higher education policy discussions. GBPI launched new webinar programming with a presentation on the Higher Education Data Book.
Medicaid expansion legislation. For the first time, Georgia lawmakers in 2018 held a committee hearing to consider a bill for a clean expansion of Medicaid income eligibility, although it did not make it to a floor vote. Medicaid expansion will put an insurance card in the pockets of hundreds of thousands of Georgians and remains a top GBPI priority.
Defense of Affordable Care Act. As the U.S. Congress launched a concerted effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017, GBPI mustered an unprecedented defense of its importance to Georgians. The effort reflected GBPI’s comfort working in the federal policy arena, while retaining a state-level focus. It included leading the Cover Georgia Coalition, marshalling broad support of Georgia’s faith-based community against repeal and showing how the state’s students with disabilities could be hurt by Medicaid cuts. At a key point in the Washington debate thousands of social media viewers saw our video story of Joshua Proffitt, a young man with cerebral palsy who relies on Medicaid to get through his college studies.
Taxes and Budget
Georgia Work Credit. A top GBPI priority is for lawmakers to adopt a Georgia Work Credit, or state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. A proposal to do just that nearly emerged from the 2017 General Assembly, albeit as part of a broad tax package that also contained a troublesome flat income tax. The effort brought wide attention to the help Georgia families can get from a Georgia Work Credit and set the stage for future success. We spearhead a broad coalition of food banks, faith groups and other advocates for women and children to maintain a drumbeat to make the tax credit a reality.
Tax Cuts and Tax Breaks. “Budget” is our middle name and a key part of GBPI’s mission is to spell out the consequences to communities when lawmakers propose to shrink state revenues with tax cuts or a new tax break. The Legislature typically approves tax bills each year, including 11 in 2018 that will cost $862 million over the next five years, as reported in our annual tracking report.
Georgia Budget Primer. For nearly a decade our signature publication explaining how Georgia collects and spends money has helped teachers, local leaders and even state policy makers gain a better understanding of how state government works. And how it might do better. In recent years GBPI distributed the 48-page booklet to people interested in public policy, including local and state officials and members of the news media.
Wealth-Building Agenda for Georgia Women. This groundbreaking 2017 report used rock solid data to show how boosting women’s wealth can spur Georgia homeownership, shore up family finances in emergencies and ensure better futures for Georgia children.
The Case for Expanding Child Care. Many families need child care assistance for a better chance to participate and thrive in Georgia’s economy, an issue GBPI spotlights often. We will continue to make the case that a bold investment to help parents afford quality care can give a booster shot to the state’s economy and communities by unleashing families’ full productive potential.
People-Powered Prosperity. Expanding child care is a critical pillar of GBPI’s people-first vision for Georgia that debuted early in 2018 and is a dynamic campaign supported through community outreach, speaking tours and interwoven throughout our policy areas. It is a bold plan to raise $1 billion to make Georgia a place where everyone has a chance a decent job to raise a family, can see a doctor when they get sick and attend great public schools.
Contribution of Immigrants
Benefits of Citizenship. An examination of the potential economic impact of eligible legal permanent residents showed how expediting naturalization can add up to $639 million in annual earnings to the state’s economy and as much as $62 million a year in state and local tax revenue. It is an eye-opening report that details how counties and regions across Georgia stand to benefit from smoothing a path to citizenship.
The Folly of Anti-Immigrant Measures. Sometimes our most important contribution is to point out that legislation aimed at immigrants is likely to backfire at the state and local level. Such was the case in 2018 with a bill likely to hit local governments with more law enforcement costs. We’ve worked with our friends at the Latin American Association to spread the word that 47,000 young Georgians might needlessly suffer the consequences if the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals changed as proposed last year. And Georgia stood to lose millions of dollars as well.