Governor Brian P. Kemp speaks during HBCU Advocacy Day at the North Steps inside the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was elected to chair the influential Southern Regional Education Board, a 16-state body that gives policy advice to states from Delaware to Texas.

The Republican Kemp was elected Sunday to lead the body for the next 12 months. He addressed the group Monday at its annual meeting in Atlanta, saying that Georgia and other southern states are “leading the great American comeback” in terms of recovering from missed learning during COVID-19.

The board, which researches education issues, has historically been prominent in improving education in the South. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was chair from 2022 to 2023.

Kemp said one key issue for him is making sure schools and colleges meet the needs of businesses for workers. He called the current shortage of workers “our biggest challenge” in economic development.

“These kids that we’re all educating, they are vital to our success,” Kemp said.

Other key priorities for him are implementing a new Georgia law that aims to improve reading instruction in early elementary grades, figuring out how higher education should handle a decline in the number of traditional college-age students and increasing the number of K-12 teachers.

Kemp said he was focused on making sure the state’s university system and technical college system didn’t waste resources in competing for students

“Being realistic with what our enrollment numbers are going to be over the next several years, I think you’re going to have to make some really tough choices,” he said.

Kemp also touted initiatives to pay for teacher aides to become certified teachers and to let retirees return to the classroom without sacrificing their pensions.

“Certainly teacher pay is a big part of it, but it’s not everything,” Kemp said. “It’s also just appreciating the job that our teachers are doing and telling them thank you for that.”