This week’s Courier Herald column:
Education has defined much of the policy differences in Georgia’s ongoing Governor’s race. Jason Carter has made it clear he wants a separate education budget for the state along with roughly an additional billion dollars per year in extra spending. Governor Deal has pushed back strongly on the additional spending, demonstrating that there is no plan from his opponent to show where the money would come from year after year without raising taxes.
Deal also continues to highlight his plan for Recovery School Districts to take over failed schools, as well as expanding Hope Grants to match technical college training to the skills demanded by Georgia’s employers. Carter, meanwhile, reminds voters that his plan to fix the Hope Scholarship would have had higher payouts than some students currently receive – though he doesn’t mention that his plans to means test the scholarship would have shut some students out of HOPE completely.
Where the candidates for Governor stand on Education is important, as the Governor is the single most powerful position with influence over Georgia’s public schools. It is the Governor that appoints the members of Georgia’s school board. It is the Governor that signs the state budget which funds much of Georgia’s local schools. The Governor also holds a line item veto – a power that Governors often remind legislators who considering going rogue from the executive branch’s preferred policies.
Further down the ballot, Georgians will also elect a State School Superintendent. Many may be wondering why.
Despite clear differences between the candidates’ positions, almost one in five Georgia Republican Primary voters skipped the decision of voting between GOP nominee Richard Woods and his runoff challenger Mike Buck. Almost one in four skipped the same race on the May 20th Primary. One in ten Democrats picked a US Senate Candidate on May 20th but didn’t vote for a school board candidate. Valarie Wilson defeated Alisha Thomas Morgan in the July runoff as the only statewide contest for Democrats.
There are clear differences between the positions of the two partisan candidates on the November ballot. Valarie Wilson wants to ensure that schools are “fully funded” despite not having any statutory authority over the legislature that will ultimately pass her budget. Woods wants to delay the implementation of new tests set to debut this Spring, which would require him to persuade the current school board – appointed by the current Governor – to do an about face on the policies and budgetary outlays they have just approved.
Regardless which candidate voters choose next month, the State School Superintendent is likely to be on a different page than the board he or she will sit on, the legislature that will fund them, and quite possibly the Governor who appoints their board. Republicans are faced with a candidate who wishes to stall or undo many of the reforms made under Governor Perdue and Governor Deal. Democrats have a candidate closely aligned with their gubernatorial one with a “spend more and figure the rest out later” message, but would still face a GOP dominated legislature who will hold their purse strings in January.
Neither candidate supported the 2012 Charter School Amendment to Georgia’s constitution, which Georgians passed overwhelmingly. And yet, voters are now left to choose between the two.
There has been talk in years past of amending Georgia’s constitution to have the position of State School Superintendent appointed, possibly in exchange for voters electing their members of the state school board. Given the apathy shown toward this race and the potential to have an elected official at odds with those given the direct power to influence this office, it is time to move this idea forward into serious consideration.
Georgia has long had a problem with educational achievement in many parts of our state. While we have many excellent schools in our high growth Atlanta suburbs, many urban and rural schools continue to fail the children we send to them. This is no longer just a problem of education but in many parts of our state it is also one of economic development.
To that end, Georgia should look at having the accountability for our schools performance fall in a more direct and linear fashion. Voters need to know who exactly is responsible. Those responsible need to be on the same team.
Georgians have a decision to make as to whom to elect on November 4th. Perhaps they should make the decision via constitutional amendment in two years whether this is the last superintendent they will directly elect.