Sonny Perdue

ATLANTA – Declining enrollment across the University System of Georgia is going to result in student funding formula cuts at most of the state’s public colleges and universities, system Chancellor Sonny Perdue said Wednesday.

Total enrollment for the fall semester at the system’s 26 colleges and universities was down 1.2% from the fall of 2021. That marked the second year in a row of declining enrollment.

“This demographic cliff we’re facing is serious,” Perdue told members of the Georgia House and Senate Appropriations committees on the second day of hearings on Gov. Brian Kemp’s $32.5 billion budget request. “We’re going to do our level best to do more with less.”

Overall, however, the governor’s fiscal 2024 budget would increase funding for the university system by $124 million. Most of that money – $87.4 million – would pay for $2,000 raises for faculty and other university system employees.

The proposed mid-year budget request covering state spending through the end of June includes $105 million for a state-of-the-art medical records system at Augusta University.

Perdue said the current antiquated records system contributes to the “surprise billing” of Georgia patients that the General Assembly addressed in 2020 with consumer-protection legislation.

Securing a new medical records system is part of a planned partnership between Augusta University Health System and WellStar announced last month.

Perdue said WellStar has committed to setting up physician training programs at hospitals across Georgia. Those programs will help retain physicians in parts of the state suffering a health-care workforce shortage, he said.

“Physicians are likely to stay where they have residencies,” he said. “This will help serve patients better. It will help serve doctors better.”

Lawmakers also took up the governor’s spending recommendations for Georgia’s K-12 schools. The state Department of Education’s (DOE) mid-year budget includes an additional $115.7 million for school security grants, which would amount to $50,000 for every K-12 school in the state. 

The proposal would also include $15 million to encourage paraprofessionals to enroll in teacher certification programs to help stem the education workforce shortage as well as $25 million for addressing the needs of students who fell behind during the pandemic.    

The DOE’s fiscal 2024 budget seeks an additional $27 million to increase the school counselor-to-student ratio and $290 million to increase teacher salaries by $2,000, which would take effect at the start of the next school year.  

 A state Senate study committee met last fall to consider whether the state’s education-funding formula – which dates back to 1985 — should be reformed.  

 “It would be my recommendation that instead of a complete overhaul that we begin … mak[ing] some adjustments on a smaller scale, so that we don’t turn over the apple cart all at once,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.