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Georgia Senate backs $42B budget
Plan includes $314M extra for states schools
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As the next year’s state budget takes one step closer to reality, local schools continue to cheer as increased funding looks more like a certainty.

“The governor and the legislature are to be commended for giving local districts great flexibility with these funds,” Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said, adding the county school system has already approved an extension of next year’s school calendar.

Georgia would spend $42 billion on state government under a plan approved Thursday by the state Senate that would raise pay for teachers and other employees, better fund regulatory services and proposes $10 million to fund startup businesses.

In a point of agreement, Gov. Nathan Deal and lawmakers have proposed giving local school districts an additional $314 million that can be used to restore teacher pay cuts and add more instruction days to the school year. Ultimately, local school officials will decide how to use those funds.

Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer has previously said while the added funds help stretch out the school calendar year, it’s still not a restoration of the full funding formula.

“With full restoration of the formula, it would restore the full calendar year and class sizes and full teacher salaries,” she had said. “It would just be a fallacy to say we’re returning to pre-2008 funding levels.”

Both Hall County and Gainesville City schools have approved full 2014-15 school calendars with 180 instructional days for students, and a full 190-day contract for teachers, essentially eliminating furlough days.

“We will reassess what else we can do when we get a clearer picture of the status of the local tax digest,” Schofield said.

Additionally in the budget, Senate lawmakers opted to slightly scale back additional spending intended to increase the ranks and salaries of state food safety inspectors. Senators also supported hiring two more regulators at the Public Service Commission to scrutinize Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power’s spending on a new nuclear plant in eastern Georgia. That project is currently trending over its government-approved budget. The Senate wants to hire two more staffers for the oversight work, but House lawmakers voted to approve one position.

As is typical, state lawmakers want to borrow money to fund projects that were not included in Deal’s original budget plan. For example, House and Senate lawmakers want to borrow nearly $1.3 million to build a simulator that trains law enforcement officials on how to confront an active shooter. Other borrowing proposals would allow colleges and universities to buy land, renovate buildings or establish a new office for the Department of Driver Services.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.