Mr. Perdue also said Tuesday that he wants to lure badly needed math and science teachers by promising them higher pay.
The proposals - which have a combined price tag of $20 million - would not take effect until August 2010 , and Mr. Perdue won't have to find the money for them until he puts out his budget next January.
The state is facing a massive budget shortfall that is forcing cuts across state government. Mr. Perdue defended the spending Tuesday after the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's annual "Eggs and Issues" legislative breakfast.
"Even in the economic downturn you have to focus on the things that will make a difference to the people of Georgia; that's education," he said.
The Republican governor's proposals received mixed reviews .
Richmond County school board Vice President Alex Howard said the additional money would be welcomed after years of state cuts totaling more than $32 million since 2002-03, but he said it seems hypocritical to reward principals for being successful while cutting the resources they need .
"To me, it's setting our principals up to fail," he said. "I would rather see these resources go back into the schools."
Columbia County school board member Mike Sleeper said the justification for spending so much money on bonuses at a time when his school system might lose $5 million to $10 million in state funding eludes him.
"I can understand that there are districts that need some better teachers and some help, but that's penalizing us," he said. "We're doing it right. We've got great teachers and principals. They're taking away money from us, theoretically. It seems like our share might go somewhere else."
Jeff Hubbard, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said he liked the idea of boosting pay for high-performing teachers who agree to serve as instructional leaders and mentors at their schools.
But he had concerns about bonuses for principals, primarily because Mr. Perdue was only proposing them for high school.
He said the bonuses should be expanded to include elementary and middle school principals whose work sets the stage for how student s perform in high school.
"We need to look at rewarding excellence across the board," he said.
Mr. Perdue said he is open to looking at lower school principals eventually but wanted to start with high schools because he is focused on improving the state's graduation rate.
The governor's proposal for principals would hand out bonuses to those who show improved graduation rates, SAT scores and end - of - year test scores.
A principal could also qualify if his or her school was in the state's top 5 percent in those categories. Teachers would receive 10 or 15 percent merit pay boosts if they mentor new teachers or perform other tasks related to professional development.
Staff writers Greg Gelpi and Donnie Fetter contributed to this story.