Annual Policy Conference Kicks Off GBPI 15th Anniversary

Hundreds Attend Insights 2019: 15 Forward for Information on Budget, Legislation and More

The Georgia Budget & Policy Institute held its annual policy conference and welcomed an audience of approx. 250 individuals who heard from state legislators, policy professionals, community advocates and others who share a common interest in achieving the goal of a Georgia where all people thrive.

Taifa Butler, GBPI executive director, opened the event by noting the organization’s 15th anniversary of moving Georgia forward with thoughtful analysis and responsible policy. Also noted, was GBPI’s continued commitment to People-Powered Prosperity.

The theme of placing people first and working together continued throughout the day. The first session consisted of elected officials who interacted with the audience by engaging in a robust dialogue. House Minority Leader Rep. Bob Trammell, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, Rep. Bee Nguyen and Sen. Dean Burke participated in a bi-partisan panel discussion that addressed this year’s legislative priorities. The announcement that Medicaid expansion and waivers are a top priority was received with spontaneous applause from the entire audience. Minutes later a unanimous show of hands represented support of new legislation that would improve and increase access to health care for approximately half-million Georgians.

GBPI Board member Robert Sills (far left) moderates the legislative panel with (from left to right) Rep. Trammel, Rep. Nguyen, Sen. Kirkpatrick and Sen. Burke.

The panel of elected officials agreed with the audience that now is the right time for Medicaid Expansion noting that the presence of the issue in the budget signals momentum. Agreement was tempered by the caveat that there are “strong issues on both sides.”

Asked what advice they would give to their constituents, the legislators’ responses varied but carried a common theme of developing a personal relationship with elected officials. They suggested writing an “old-fashioned” letter, sharing a personal story and visiting the legislative website to track bills and become more informed.

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods discussed challenges and opportunities facing the school system. GBPI Senior Policy Analyst Stephen Owens opened the conversation by highlighting a few of the most significant education issues facing Georgia, including educator pay raises and the potential impact on district-level funding. “We are closer to a crisis that we’re willing to admit,” Owens said, referencing transportation funding. In his reply, Woods pointed out that there is “more to Georgia schools than just funding” and that educators are being more “missionary-minded”. He went on to state that each school is different and so is each district. He continued by saying that the biggest challenge will continue to be factors such as high poverty levels, student home environment and nutrition. “These are things we can’t control but have an impact on training and getting students ready to join the workforce”.

In an equally engaging and standing room only concurrent session, panelists presented information on the connection between and impact of wealth, justice reform and education on health. Dr. Veda Johnson examined the relationship between health and academic achievement by sharing data and information on School Based Health Centers (SBHC) which, she said, is an “exemplary model of care for children”. School-based Health Centers play an important and complementary role by assuring that health care is available, appropriate and affordable for underserved school-aged youth. Academic achievement was also noted as a key to keeping youth out of the criminal justice system; poverty was identified as a potential entry point.

The Insights 2019 keynote panelists and final speakers of the day were introduced by Taifa Butler. She set the tone for the session by vigorously describing the work of GBPI. “There’s no way to aggregate data without considering solutions,” she said. “GBPI researches and presents policy solutions that are targeted at advancing equity in our state. We can be bold by centering it and naming it.”

GBPI Executive Director Taifa Butler (left) moderates the keynote panel with (from left to right) Darrick Hamilton, Gigi Pedraza and Ai-jen Poo.

She opened the discussion to panelists by asking each to define equity. Dr. Darrick Hamilton led the responses by reminding the audience of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s economic bill of rights, a charge to establish a high standard of American living. “Without capital, poverty is locked in,” Hamilton said. “Economic justice is a moral imperative.” Economic justice is defined as “trickle down philanthropy”, according to panelist Gigi Pedraza. “We must actively make sure we have models that don’t perpetuate the status quo,” she stated. And, panelist Ai-jen Poo concluded that “equity in the 21st century means everyone can live, work and care with dignity”.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute sincerely thanks its sponsors for their generous support of its work and the Insights 2019 conference: Ms. Ann Rosewater and Mr. Robert A. Kronley, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, Public Education Matters Georgia, Healthcare Georgia Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, Healthcare Georgia Foundation, Hemophilia of Georgia, United Way of Greater Atlanta, W.L. Clifton Political Consulting, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, Dentons Atlanta, Frank Family Foundation, Georgia AFL-CIO, Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, Georgians for a Healthy Future, Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Harry Heiman & Abby Friedman, Latin American Association and Voices for Georgia’s Children.

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