We have been funding public education under the Quality Basic Education legislation, QBE. This is a 1985 formula that does not meet the needs of a 21st century classroom. While adjustments have been made, as recently as last year, more needs to be done. As we finalize the pilot projects and reforms being produced by our Race To The Top initiative, I look forward to modernizing the way we spend tax payer dollars so that we can produce more positive results in our public schools. Public distrust emanates from poor graduation rates, excessive remediation expenses and substandard test scores. Dedicated educators deserve to have this stigma removed. If we don’t do that, we will discourage the bright college students who want to be teachers from choosing that profession. We cannot afford that loss!
Georgia has had too many school boards placed under the sanctions of potential loss of accreditation. While this is a very serious matter, it is somewhat ironic that the loss of accreditation can only be based on governance issues and not on substandard academic progress of the school system. Unless this is addressed by state legislation, we will continue to have thousands of Georgia’s children trapped in underperforming schools through no fault of their own. I look forward to working with you to solve this problem. In education, as in most areas of life, poor outcomes are most often not the result of lack of money, but lack of vision and leadership.
One of the primary reasons for getting an education is to get a job. To the parents of children who contemplate dropping out of school, you should remind them that they are condemning themselves to the lowest rung on the employment ladder, and you should prepare them to continue to live at home because the jobs that will be available to them will be few indeed.
Since employment is a primary goal of education, I want to commend the Chancellor of our University System and the Commissioner of our Technical College System for evaluating and refocusing their programs of study to give priority to those educational paths that have a proven record of employability. It is a tragedy when a young person works hard, accumulates debt for student loans and then graduates with a diploma in a field where there are no jobs.
My budget proposes to focus more funds within our HOPE Grant Program toward occupations where we know jobs are available and shortages actually exist. Currently, there are several thousand jobs available for individuals with a commercial driver’s license. There are similar shortages in the areas of nursing and early childhood education. In order to fill these vacancies we suggest directing additional funds within our Technical College HOPE Grants so that over 90 percent of the tuition costs in these programs will be provided. That’s Putting Your Money Where The Jobs Are!
Two years ago, we worked together to save our HOPE Scholarship program. As a result, it remains one of the most generous state run scholarship programs in the nation. It is also keeping our best and brightest students in Georgia. In FY2011, more than 97 percent of entering in-state freshman at both the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech received the Hope Scholarship.
Today, I am happy to say that my budget will increase the Hope Scholarship by 3 percent over last year, bringing the total funds going to Hope in FY 2014 to nearly $600 million.
This is quite a contrast to the proposed bankruptcy of HOPE that was projected to occur this year. That’s why I say, together, we saved HOPE!
Also, in keeping with our emphasis on results based funding, I would like to thank the Higher Education Funding Commission for its hard work over the past year to provide us with a solid recommendation that will be the starting point for change from enrollment-based funding to outcomes-based funding in our university and technical colleges. I encourage you to join me in fully considering their recommendations.
Another foundation block for a growing and prosperous Georgia is healthcare.
I want to thank the Commissioner of Agriculture and the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health for their efforts to keep our citizens healthy and thereby minimize the need for expensive healthcare. Commissioner Black has launched the Georgia Grown program in which he is promoting agricultural products grown in our state. He is working with local farmers and school dieticians to increase the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables by our school children. Commissioner Fitzgerald is one of the individuals leading the Georgia SHAPE program, which is educating and encouraging children regarding the importance of exercise. Both of these efforts will keep young people healthier and will reduce the scourge of obesity that abounds in our state.
As a result of a downturned economy and the provisions of federal legislation known as Obamacare, we are seeing a growth in our Medicaid rolls. As you know, I have elected not to expand our eligibility limits for Medicaid. At the State Chamber of Commerce Eggs and Issues Breakfast yesterday, I elaborated upon the reasons for that decision. I did not judge it prudent to expand the eligible population of an entitlement program by adding an additional 620,000 new enrollees since our state is already spending approximately $2.5 billion in state taxpayer funds annually.
Even without expanding the eligible population base, we expect our Medicaid rolls to grow by an additional 100,000 individuals. This new population of Medicaid recipients, along with other mandates of Obamacare such as the extension of the time between the review of eligibility, will raise our Medicaid costs by nearly $1.7 billion over the next 10 years.
For FY 2014, I am requesting that you authorize the Board of Community Health to apply a provider fee for hospitals, just as they currently do for nursing homes. Unless this is done, there will be a shortfall in revenue to support the Medicaid program of nearly $700M. Since we cannot adjust benefits, the reduction in reimbursements to hospitals would be the only way to keep the program solvent. Those reductions would be approximately 20 percent, which would seriously jeopardize many of our state’s hospitals. Therefore, I urge your favorable consideration of this legislation.
Last year, we appropriated $1.2M to expand residency programs for doctors in our state. I want to thank Dr. Ricardo Azziz, the President of Georgia Regents University Augusta, for leading this effort and the participating hospitals for making it possible for us to develop 400 new residency slots. We believe this is one of the best ways to retain medical doctors in our state. And the FY 2014 budget includes $2M in additional funds to further increase the number of health professionals practicing in the state.
The last foundation block for a prosperous Georgia that I will address today is economic development. For the last 2 years during this State of the State Address you have heard me say, “The state of our state is strong.” That statement is no less true today then it was for each of the two preceding years. In fact, it may be more true now when you consider employment numbers, increased job opportunities, revenue growth and the expanding prestige of our state in the international marketplace.
We currently have the lowest unemployment rate we have experienced in nearly 4 years. It is still too high. That is why we must insist that every young person get a high school diploma; otherwise, they become the fuel that stokes the fires of the unemployment furnace.
We are continuing to see promising job growth and many of these jobs are paying substantially above the average wage in our state. Since I stood before you last year at this address, we have announced more than 10,000 jobs, and many of these are on the high end of the employment scale. More and more businesses are deciding to make Georgia their home. Some of the reasons for these decisions are government policies of low taxes and reasonable regulations. Together, we are showing the world that we are running state government the way it should be: in an efficient, common sense and businesslike manner. And clearly businesses are taking note of this!
We have spent taxpayer dollars wisely. Using 2012 dollars, our per capita spending of government money is 17 percent less that it was a decade ago. And we currently have more than 9,000 fewer state employees than we had five years ago.
We have saved taxpayer dollars. The Revenue Shortfall Reserve, better known as the Rainy Day Fund, has been increased by 226 percent since I became Governor.