Georgia Gubernatorial Candidates Clash on Education

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and challenger Jason Carter exchanged verbal punches on economic philosophy and taxing in a difficult first exchange between the the two candidates at what was supposed to be a forum on education, writes Greg Bluestein of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The incumbent stated that he had preserved K-12 funding and was responsible for the largest education funding increase in seven years.  Carter, a state senator from Decatur and grandson of President Jimmy Carter, said that he believed the funding system was an aging “shell game” that only harms students.

Their bickering over educational funding, charter school growth, and Georgia’s jobless rate was constant, but they saved their angriest words for after the forum when they argued about education funding. Carter said he would create a separate budget that would ensure a boost to classroom funding.  Deal called his words empty rhetoric and criticized Carter for putting forth such a plan when he had voted three times for budgets with education funding cuts.

“Rhetoric without results will never educate a child,” Deal told the crowd of educators. “This campaign is too important to be allowed to be dictated by simple rhetoric and promises. You need to know the hard answers.”

Carter’s answer was that he voted those three times in the spirit of bipartisanship, but after visiting several  hard-hit schools, he knew the answer was to cut more wasteful spending and to crack down on tax cheats.

The governor also iterated his willingness to improve education in Georgia by sharing that he had been studying a Louisiana program which has led to an increase in charter schools. Carter countered that the idea “underscores to me that we don’t have the kind of coherent vision that we need.”

Carter continued by saying that Deal presided over the “worst contraction” to education funding in the history of the state.  Deal then asked him to explain his voting record.  Deal even brought up Carter’s grandfather, saying that education funding decreased in his last year in the governor’s mansion.

Other exchanges between the two candidates included Deal pointing out that a $535 million increase in K-12 spending resulted in elimination of furlough days for teachers, that districts went back to 180 days of school instruction, and, in some districts, teachers received raises.

Carter said that since Deal became governor, there are 9,000 fewer teachers but more students, 98% of districts have larger class sizes and instructional days have been reduced in two-thirds of districts.  Carter, if elected, said he would increase efforts to “recruit and retain the best possible teachers” and do whatever he can to reward them.

Deal reminded the audience that he had offered full tuition to technical college students who are entering certain fields where workers are in high demand, as well as full tuition to the highest achieving students in the state university system.  He added the $45 million that he directed to be used to connect every public school in the state to high-speed Internet.

In an article by Ricky Leroux for The Marietta Daily Journal, Carter says that 91 school districts have had to raise taxes “to make up for the governor’s education policy”.  But, said Carter, the governor continues to say he has not raised taxes.  He also mentioned there was a decrease in recipients of the state’s HOPE Scholarship, which, in his opinion, is because of Deal’s education policies.

“Our state used to be a great leader in terms of access to higher education,” Carter said. “But drastic cuts to the HOPE Scholarship have left us with one of the fastest growing costs of college. It’s getting more and more expensive in Georgia to go to school.”

Deal inserted the fact that the HOPE Grant for students attending technical schools had been expanded during his administration.  He also commented on the REACH scholarship program which provides a $2,500 scholarship to middle school students who keep their grades up and stay “out of trouble”.  He pointed out other scholarship  and matching funds programs offered by many state institutions which had been part of the education program during his time in office.

With about six weeks left until election day, the governor’s race has become too close to call according to most polls. The Constitution-Journal’s most recent poll showed Deal’s lead down to a single point.