ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal asked lawmakers to invest more in educating state prison inmates and promised in his budget address on Thursday that the expense would pay off for the individuals and Georgia's economy when they are released.
Deal spoke to the General Assembly's Joint Appropriations Committee days after revealing his budget proposal with about $280 million in fresh funding for schools, a small raise for state employees and more money to hire child-welfare employees. Of the total $45 billion budget, $21.7 billion would be funds raised by Georgia's government rather than federal money.
But Deal limited his comments to criminal justice reform, which has become a signature issue for the Republican entering his second term. Among the requests he highlighted: $481,000 to create charter high schools at two prisons, $5.9 million for 48 staff members to work with inmates, and a $1.2 million increase in spending on vocational programs in certain industries.
Deal said the requests for education programming at state prisons add up to about $12.2 million. Helping inmates get a high school degree or a technical degree while in prison will help keep them out after release, he said.
"This leaves our costly prison beds for the most dangerous and violent offenders, as should be the case," Deal said. "Education can open the door of opportunity while shutting the revolving door that has plagued our justice system for far too long."
Lawmakers have held budget hearings this week and return to the Capitol on Monday.
Deal didn't mention one element of the budget proposal that has already unsettled some members: eliminating state health insurance coverage for school district employees working less than 30 hours a week and without a professional certificate. Education groups said that often includes cafeteria employees and bus drivers.
Deal later said lawmakers should consider "in fairness" that state employees in other agencies working less than 30 hours are not eligible for state health insurance coverage.