Education and the Georgia governor’s race
In the race for governor, incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger state Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, have staked education as a battleground, both declaring schools a top priority. Education tends to get dragged onto the stage in gubernatorial contests, but there’s more reason for the high profile this election. The sitting state school superintendent John Barge sacrificed likely re-election to take on Deal in the GOP primary, a quixotic crusade to his supporters and a quizzical folly to Republican voters, 72 percent of whom backed the governor. Barge’s campaign — borne of his frustration with continued erosion of education spending — underscored the dramatic drop in funding for schools at the same time more is being asking of them. Both Deal and Carter vow more money for schools in the future. But finances aren’t the only looming trouble spot. Georgia’s commitment to the Common Core State Standards is under attack. While a public outcry beat back an effort this year to withdraw from the standards, the issue continues to smolder and will likely spark in the next legislative session. Because of the significance of this election, we asked Carter and Deal to outline their education plans and platforms. We asked the same of the four runoff candidates for state school superintendent and will publish those next Sunday.
Maureen Downey, for the Editorial Board
School choice, innovation vital
By Nathan Deal
In the bad times and in the better times, I have prioritized education. It’s an investment in our children, but it’s also key to keeping Georgia No. 1 for business.
When I took office in 2011, state revenues were still suffering from the Great Recession. I worked to safeguard education funding while making the hard decisions to reduce spending in other important agencies that had already gone through years of cuts.
This year, with the state’s revenues beginning to stabilize, we’ve increased k-12 spending by more than half a billion dollars, allowing most school districts to return to a full 180-day calendar and give our teachers much-deserved raises.
But money isn’t everything.
Parents, students and educators need choice, innovation and the latest technology so every corner of our state has access to high-quality instruction.
At this time, we’re in the process of connecting every schoolhouse in the state to high-speed Internet service, which will help students in every corner of our state attain 21st century skills and become college and career ready. We can’t allow any county in Georgia to stay on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Children have no say on where they live, and sometimes parents don’t have the resources to move to a district with better schools. A family’s ZIP code shouldn’t determine a child’s future, and we need choices for parents whose kids are trapped in failing schools.
That’s why I championed — and you as Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved — the charter school amendment in 2012. This will give parents another option when they’ve been denied by a local school board.
From pre-k to third grade, students learn to read. After that, they read to learn. It’s my goal to have all students reading at grade level by third grade, because we know if they don’t they are four times more likely to drop out of school. We’ve hired reading mentors in all regions of the state to help educators better teach reading skills.
Because young people acquire many of the skills they need for reading before they enter school, we must make strategic investments early. Georgia is a model for high-quality early learning and was recently awarded nearly $52 million for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Grant to expand on these best practices.
I’m particularly proud of the tireless work my wife Sandra has done to promote reading to youngsters. As Georgia’s first lady and a former public school teacher, she’s taken her “Read Across Georgia” campaign to all 181 school districts in the state. Sandra brings passion and personality to the cause.
A great teacher can make all the difference, and in my second term, we’ll build on our efforts to measure teacher effectiveness by rewarding our best educators and keeping them in the classroom.
These efforts in the long run will improve our graduation rates, which is crucial to maintaining the skilled workforce that businesses seek.
Higher education plays an increasingly important role too. But among students who enter college, far too few earn a diploma.
We were recently one of three states awarded a $1 million grant as part of Complete College America to implement Guided Pathways to Success. This initiative will provide our students with structured degree plans and guarantee course availability to eliminate excess credits, cut college costs, ensure more on-time graduations and save the state millions.
It won’t be long before 60 percent of new jobs will require some attainment of post-secondary education.
I am now implementing the High Demand Career Initiative, partnering our institutions of higher education with leaders in the private sector so that we offer degree programs in areas where we face a shortage of workers.
This program dovetails with my Strategic Industries Workforce Development HOPE Grant program, which pays full tuition for technical college students entering a high-need field.
The money and time that we place in these programs are investments in our economy but more importantly in our people.
There is still much work to be done and many metrics to improve, but together we are building on the progress of those who came before us to benefit those who come after us.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is running for a second term.
Schools need more support
By Jason Carter
A few weeks ago, our younger son Thomas graduated from preschool. Next month, he’ll join his brother Henry at our neighborhood public elementary school.
Like other parents across the state, we’re counting on our schools to help build our kids’ future. I believe that Georgia can — and must — be a state where those boys and their classmates get a good education and then go on to graduate to good jobs right here at home.
And I am running for governor to protect that future. Because while I know it is possible, I also know that the path we are on today will not take us there.
Gov. Deal has overseen the largest contraction of public education in our state’s modern history. This massive disinvestment will wreak havoc on our economy for years to come. In my family, we call that eating our seed corn. It might fill you up for one night, but next year you’re going to starve.
The results have been devastating:
u25A0We have lost 9,000 teachers while the number of students has gone up. Ninety-five percent of school districts have had to increase class sizes.
u25A0Two-thirds of school districts have cut instructional days, with some cutting as many as 30 days.
u25A0We have the nation’s fourth-worst high school graduation rate.
u25A0More than half of our school districts have had to raise local property taxes to deal with the state cuts.
And it’s not just our schoolchildren. Gov. Deal’s record on higher education is just as bad.
A new report shows that the cost of college has increased faster in Georgia than in all but one state in the country. While cutting funding to our colleges, Gov. Deal has also gutted the HOPE scholarship. In just two years, Georgia lost 80,000 HOPE recipients, and our technical colleges lost nearly a quarter of their enrolled students overnight. This threatens our future skilled workforce.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
As governor, my first priority will always be education — not just in an election year. I believe that education is economic development. It creates opportunity, it attracts businesses to the state, and it prepares our students for the best jobs.
A big part of the problem is that politicians in Atlanta promise support while continuing cuts. Since taking office, Gov. Deal has continued that shell game, underfunding public education by an average of $1 billion per year. He likes talking about his election-year funding increase, but the truth is he still missed the mark by three-quarters of a billion dollars. So his promise to “restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries” is simply a sham for far too many families and educators across Georgia.
My plan ends the shell game. As governor, I will propose a separate education budget — a trust fund that will keep the politicians in Atlanta from taking from our schools to pay for other things. The separate budget will hold politicians accountable and force them to put their money where their mouths are.
Of course, money alone won’t solve the problems. We have to stop the visionless political games that keep parents and students guessing with major change after change. And we must have a long-term, coherent focus on what drives educational success: our teachers.
As governor, I’ll focus every day on recruiting, retaining and supporting the best possible teachers for our students. My wife Kate is a public school teacher, and I know our teachers are tired of being treated like they’re the only problem instead of part of the solution. We all need to recognize that the strongest teacher workforce gives us our strongest chance to succeed.
Finally, we will restore the promise of HOPE by making sure we maximize the number of students who can afford to go to college and technical school. That’s an investment that will pay off not just for those students, but for the entire state as we reap the benefits of a highly skilled workforce.
When the bell rings next month and parents drop their kids back for the first day, we’ll all be counting on our schools to give our kids the best opportunities. That bright future is possible, and it starts with electing leaders who know what it takes to get us there.
State Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, is running for governor of Georgia.