2024 State Legislative Recap

In the wee hours of Friday, March 29th, GEEARS’ Executive Director Mindy Binderman emailed the GEEARS board and staff. The subject line: We DID it!!!!!”  

What did Mindy mean with this jubilant message? That the dogged advocacy of the GEEARS staff, along with that of our partners, resulted in some major wins for Georgia’s children, their families, and their educators.  

It was just before Sine Die ended around one a.m. with the legislators tossing their papers in the air, that the Budget Conference Committee issued its report. Included in their budget were:  

  • Almost $100 million to make critical improvements to our state’s Lottery-funded Pre-K program. This figure is almost double what was in the original budget proposal and essentially the entire amount requested by the House Working Group on Early Childhood Education, chaired by Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones. 
  • More than $9 million for Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS), which is less than the $20 million proposed by GEEARS but twice the amount proposed in the Governor’s original budget.  

The new Pre-K dollars will help increase teacher salaries, provide additional start-up funds for Pre-K classrooms, increase operating funds, maintain access to the Pre-K Summer Transition Program, and restore class size to 20 students/class. It is a historic investment and a life-changing one for Pre-K teachers, assistant teachers, and students.  

We believe GEEARS and our partners greatly contributed to these budget wins. In particular, we credit our long-standing relationship with Speaker Pro Tem Jones, an amazing champion for early childhood.  

And earlier this week, members of the GEEARS board sent a last-minute letter to Governor Kemp urging the very increases that made it into this budget.  

Our ongoing advocacy has included stats, science, and stories conveyed through a range of vehicles, including Strolling Thunder, a quickly-assembled virtual town hall, and a video storytelling campaign. We know all these collective efforts had an impact.  

Beyond this budget news, Georgia families had many other major legislative wins, including expanded paid parental leave, support for safe and stable housing, and creation of a commission on infant and maternal health. For these bills and others that passed, Governor Kemp has 40 days to veto or sign them. If he does nothing, the bills will become law.   

For more details about this important legislation, the bills that didn’t pass but will remain on GEEARS’ radar, and much more, read on. The text color denotes the bill’s status (e.g., green for passage). To see all the bills that we tracked this legislative session, click here.   

Early Childhood Education 
  • SR471, which would create a Senate Study Committee on Access to Affordable Child Care, passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support (as a study committee, this bill does not need to be passed by the other chamber or signed by the Governor).  
  • The language of HB 941, which allows for local school districts to use capital outlay funds for educational facilities for Georgia’s Pre-K classrooms, was included in the unrelated SB 233, which passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.   
  • SB 464, which establishes a program for the Georgia Department of Education to allocate funds for eligible educators to purchase school supplies, passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature. The bill also makes changes to last year’s HB 538 (Georgia Early Literacy Act), requiring the identification of up to five universal reading screeners for use by school districts, one of which must be free, by June 1, 2025. 
  • The final budget included: 
    • $9.3 million for Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) Program, doubling the amount initially included, to support increasing reimbursement rates for CAPS providers.  
    • An additional $2,500 in the base salary of teachers of preschool-aged children with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B) (total: $1.55 million).
  •  The final budget included an historic $97 million increase in Lottery funds for Georgia’s Pre-K Program:  
    • Improving pay parity for Pre-K lead and assistant teachers’ salaries with K-12 teachers in public and private settings. Originally proposed by Governor Nathan Deal in 2016, this is a significant win for our Pre-K teachers, who often earn less than their K-12 counterparts even when they have the same education and credentials. This is particularly important for Pre-K assistant teachers who will go from making a base salary of $20,190 to about $26,000 (total: $19.4 million).
    • An additional $9.5 million to restore Pre-K class size to 20 students per class. In 2011, that number was raised to 22 students/class to cut costs during the recession. This funding is for year one of a four-year phase in of the reduced class size (equivalent to an additional 96 classrooms).  
    • Increasing start-up grants for new classrooms from $8,000 to $30,000, the first increase since the program began in 1992. $15,000 classroom refresh grants will also be implemented every five years (total: $13.4 million). 
    • An additional $4.1 million to support transportation costs for Pre-K students (an increase of around $17 to $81/child) helping children access this important program.
    • An increase of operations budgets by $11.5 million for private Pre-K providers, in line with the support of public Pre-K passed through separate legislation. 
    • An additional $9 million to maintain current enrollment in the Summer Transition Program. 
    Child and Family Health 
    • HB 1037, which creates the Georgia Commission on Maternal and Infant Health, was attached to HB 1046. The bill passed and awaits the Governor’s signature.  
    • The final budget included: 
      • $1.1 million to increase reimbursement rates for Babies Can’t Wait providers. 
      • $1.1 million to expand the pilot to provide home visiting in rural Georgia. 
      • $979,000 to increase funds for newborn screenings to include two additional disorders approved by the Georgia Newborn Screening Advisory Committee.
      • $2.7 million to increase select primary care and OB/GYN codes within Medicaid
      • $200,000 for autism early screening and care training in rural counties. 
      • $6.3 million to cover the full cost of breakfast and lunch for reduced-paying students in public schools, including those in public Pre-K. 
      Family Supports 
      • HB 1010, which doubles the number of weeks (from three to six) of paid parental leave for state employees and public school teachers, passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.  
      • HB 404 (The Safe at Home Act), which helps renters stay safely and stably housed, passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.  
      • HB 1021, which increases the amount of the dependent exemption (i.e., as an allowable deduction on Georgia taxable income) from $3,000 per dependent to $4,000 per dependent, passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature.  
      • HB 298, which would exempt parents of children six months or younger from jury duty, passed out of committee but did not receive a vote on the Senate floor. 
      • HB 559, which would provide preferential treatment during advance voting to voters accompanied by children five years of age or younger, passed out of committee but did not receive a vote on the House floor 
      • HB 211, which would eliminate the state sales tax on diapers, did not receive a committee hearing. 
      • HB 565, which would increase access to Georgia’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, passed out of committee but did not receive a vote on the House Floor. 
      Miscellaneous 
      • Language that will release more of the Georgia Lottery’s $1.4 billion in unrestricted reserves was included in the HB 353, which addresses the coin operated machines within the Lottery. The bill passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature. The required release of additional reserves could greatly strengthen the Lottery-funded Georgia’s Pre-K and HOPE programs.  
      • The FY25 budget included a 4% increase for full-time state employees’ salaries (capped at $3,000), including those in child-serving agencies like the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) and Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS). 
      • SB 386 (and the related SR 579) would authorize sports betting under the Georgia Lottery, which funds Georgia’s Pre-K and HOPE programs. The bill passed the Senate with language prioritizing investments in Pre-K but this was language was taken out by the House Committee. The bill did not make it to the House floor for a vote. The session saw a number of other sports betting measures considered but not ultimately passed.