ATLANTA — Gov. Nathan Deal asked Georgia lawmakers Tuesday to put millions more into educating state prison inmates and helping county jails provide programs that offer a chance to get job skills while serving time.
Deal spoke to the General Assembly's Joint Appropriations Committee, kicking off a week of legislative hearings on his $47.5 billion spending plan for the coming financial year. Of the total budget, $23.7 billion comes from state revenues. The rest is from federal sources.
Deal, a Republican in the second year of his final four-year term, gave a broad overview of his spending plan before focusing on education in Georgia's criminal justice system. He has made changes to the system a priority since taking office. He backed laws creating specialty courts to focus on groups such as juvenile offenders and veterans, or certain charges such as DUI or drug use. He also pushed for funding of prison education programs.
Deal last year asked lawmakers to establish two charter schools at state prisons, allowing inmates to earn high school degrees, an alternative to existing GED certificate programs and job skills training. For the fiscal year starting in July, Deal is asking lawmakers to commit $4.3 million toward the schools, expansion of GED certificate programs and other job-skills training.
Deal said the state should "give (inmates) education and skills while they are with us in the system so that when they leave us, they will have something to offer to a prospective employer and they can get a job."
"If they can get a job, the likelihood of them reoffending is significantly reduced," he added.
Deal also wants $1.3 million to encourage county officials to partner with the state's technical college system to create job-training programs at local jails. Deal said some counties already are trying to replicate similar work at state prisons and encouraged lawmakers to "show them some good faith."
Deal highlighted a request for $13.7 million to renovate a state prison — identified by prison officials as the shuttered Metro State Prison in Atlanta — as a re-entry facility to help prisoners prepare for release and $5.7 million for a behavioral health crisis center to quickly treat people with mental health conditions. He also has requested $6.3 million for renovations at state prisons to cope with a larger percentage of violent offenders due to reductions in the number of nonviolent offenders imprisoned.
Deal's plan would give teachers and state employees a 3 percent raise and increase K-12 education spending by $300 million, leaving a gap of about $167 million between total dollars and what schools should receive under the state's formula to determine the appropriate amount.
Deal's aides have said higher increases could be given to keep or attract new employees in high-turnover positions.
Lawmakers disagreed with Deal's recommendation last year to remove some part-time school employees, including bus drivers, from the state's health insurance plan, instead opting to require that districts pay the employer contribution. That cost is going up by $100 to about $850 per employee in Deal's latest budget proposal, which state health officials said is lower than the payment on behalf of teachers and other state employees.
Opponents argue that school districts can't afford to make up the $30 million expense.