Education is such a lovely buzz word. It sounds so shiny, progressive and new. It elicits images of school children a la Norman Rockwell, school books, tassels and diplomas. The reality is it’s a much murkier and logistically demanding word than that. Over the weekend, Carter penned an op-ed in the AJC that discussed his education platform. He wants to create a separate budget for education, one that cannot be cut despite whatever other cuts may befall the state. He cites many budget cuts to education under the Deal administration. IMHO, these cuts were frankly unquestionably necessary in 2010 as Georgia’s budget was in free fall and literally every other state department and agency’s budget had already gone through 10% cuts at least once. At that time, the budget for education had sustained the least amount of cuts, with legislators leaving education as the last pillar to fall. Bravo for that, General Assembly- some of us haven’t forgotten.
However, Carter AND Deal are missing some larger points that I fear our state as a whole has not yet comprehensively addressed. To be forthright, I don’t know how to address them either, but rather than not talk about them and let the gubernatorial discussion continue to be about money, I will do what little I can to bring them to light. I would assert that while certain aspects of education demand more funding (I can’t wait to see how the Gov’nuh’s going to pay for internet in every school district), Georgia’s biggest challenges in education are cultural and structural and throwing money at school districts will not necessarily create a solution. The following points are items I would ask each candidate to consider in their platform, and would hope we have General Assembly members who are already pondering them.
We have a brain drain from the rural to the urban
Growing up in Social Circle, the aspect of moving from the farm on which I grew up to the “big city” of Atlanta was not only a dream, but it was necessary. In Walton County, the prospects of jobs and higher earnings are few and far between. Within the last decade, Publix considered building a store at the intersection of MLK Jr. Blvd and Spring Street in Monroe, but decided that Walton’s per capita income was too low to support one of their stores. This isn’t a unique story in the rural south, no matter what state. So what do kids do? They grow up and move out, to places with better jobs, better schools, and lower taxes. So how do you keep kids in their rural hometowns? I’m glad you asked.
We have a wealth of growing industries in financial data information, a banking resurgence, the solar industry (no thanks to Georgia Power), and women owned businesses. What are we doing education-wise to give human capital to these industries?
Georgia has always had a thriving banking business. Ask our legislators; many have profited from it. And why not? We have a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit in this state that is somehow fostered by our red clay, our wide open spaces, gravel roads, and blue skies. Those blue skies and wide open spaces have positioned our state to be the fifth best state for solar production- if we utilized it. However, our state is somewhat unique in that our power company creates a plan to be considered by the state governing authority (the PSC) rather than the governing authority creating a plan to be implemented by the power company. I’m normally in favor of the private market determining business behavior except for the fact that Georgia Power tends to write large checks to both state legislators and the PSC, setting up sort of a fox watching the hen house effect. A girl learns a lot while advocating for green energy issues, and HB 657 taught me to never doubt Georgia Power’s influence on our state’s economy and energy again. While Georgia Power is a benevolent parasite, contributing to little leagues and non-profits all over the state, it’s still a parasite that drains the state of money for its shareholders while forcing the state to pay for its nuclear power plants. Thanks for that bill.
And about being a girl in Georgia…Despite the stereotypical idea that Yankees have of Southern women, most of the ladies I know are more Scarlett O’Hara, less damsel in distress. These ladies are kicking serious ass with home grown businesses and are rising in the ranks of the high tech industries that are popping up all over the state. Georgia may be known for its agricultural industry, but we’re growing a diverse crop of businesses here and need the education background to make it expand. No matter who is the next Governor, the next wave of economic development in this state will ride on the shoulders of whoever can be the most responsive to what industry needs from education. Me, I got a degree in International Relations and French, but Agnes Scott College taught me to think on my feet and to ask questions until I understood clearly what was being discussed. Education cannot just be about a specific thought topic, but must teach Georgia children to think intuitively and ahead. This isn’t rocket science, so let’s get to it.
The education system must be structured to be responsive to changing stimuli. It is my personal opinion that charter schools can aid the flexibility challenge that our state education system otherwise faces.
Charter schools were a hot button issue and will be a central point to the state super race run-off in the Democratic primary. While the Republicans are clawing at each other over Common Core, Democrats are ripping one another over charter schools. Here’s my thought: it seems to be working.. Status quo public education in Georgia continues to be rather disappointing. That’s not just because it could use more money in some ways, but its inability to adjust to to what the job market needs. Not everyone fits in a traditional school, not every child needs to go to college, so our vocational and charter schools can satisfy the diverse needs of children in our state. Let’s create a reasonable evaluation system of charter schools, test the theory, rinse and repeat. If it doesn’t work, then try something new. As always though, full disclosure: I have a charter school as a client.
Education isn’t just about funding. It also isn’t just about what you teach, but how you teach it. They may not like it, but Deal and Carter are going to have to get down into the weeds to really address this issue before I’ll buy their buzz words. As a matter of fact, about 20 years ago there was another Southern gubernatorial race that hinged on education. The winning candidate said then that, “We need to be innovators and creative thinkers to achieve excellence”. I would say the same about Georgia. So get to it, gentlemen. Stop telling us it’s about “education” and “taxes” and that we need more “technology”. Get into the weeds and let’s tackle this challenge. It worked for George W. Bush. Really tackling education is the key to the Governor’s Mansion. Don’t miss the opportunity to get your hands dirty. Our state is worth your toil.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” ― Plutarch