ATLANTA — Democrat Jason Carter picked up the endorsement of one of the largest teachers’ groups in Georgia on Wednesday, a move that was largely expected but helped him underscore a central message of his campaign against Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.
The Georgia Association of Educators has historically backed Democrats, so it was not a surprise when the group announced its support for Carter, a state senator from Atlanta. In its announcement, the group’s president, Sid Chapman, cited a “demoralizing and dismantling” of public education in recent years.
“We believe the next leader of our state government needs to see public education for what it means for our children as well as what it means for the health and welfare of our state and society,”
Education has been a major issue in this year’s race for governor. From the beginning, Carter has blasted Deal for a chronic underfunding of education that resulted in bigger class sizes and fewer school days.
Deal has countered he sheltered education from state budget cuts. His annual budgets have included increases in education, although they have been far below what is recommended under the state’s funding formula, which hasn’t been updated since 1985.
Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson noted Carter had voted for the governor’s first three budgets but not his most recent one.
“He voted for all of the governor’s budgets until he decided to run for governor,” Robinson said. “Ironically, this year he voted against more than half a billion dollars in new spending for schools, ending furlough days, raising teacher salaries and extending broadband Internet service to every school in Georgia.”
That included funds required to keep up with student enrollment, with about $314 million in new funds available.
The group, which represents some 42,000 educators, declined to endorse anyone in the 2002 governor’s race after a public fight with then-Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. That lack of support was considered a factor when Barnes lost his re-election bid that year. The group later endorsed Barnes in 2010 as he sought his old job but was defeated by Deal.
Carter said he looked forward to teachers helping him win in November and rebuilding the state’s public schools.
“Gov. Deal’s administration has too often treated teachers as the problem, but we know they’re part of the solution,” Carter said, adding his two young boys are enrolled in public school. “I know their future depends on having good teachers who are supported with the tools they need to succeed in the classroom.”
In the announcement, the group noted teacher concerns about the debate over the state’s Common Core academic standards. Some conservatives believe the standards amount to federal intrusion, and Deal has asked the Board of Education to conduct a limited review. That review continues, and Chapman noted the uncertainty teachers feel.
“Our teachers and students have been taken on an inconsistent roller-coaster ride of different curricula and standards from which is expected consistent results,” Chapman said. “(Carter) realizes that this just cannot continue and that the expertise of our educator workforce must be tapped to provide the consistency of purpose needed for success.”
Robinson said the governor enjoys the support of many teachers and called Wednesday’s announcement a “partisan endorsement, not a teacher endorsement.”