Gov. Nathan Deal strongly called for changes in education, primarily through passage of his Opportunity School District constitutional amendment, Tuesday in a talk before the state Board of Education. He pointed to education as a vehicle for economic opportunities.
Deal also characterized local boards of education as “monopolies” that have no check or balance. School boards “certainly do not achieve innovation because why should you. There’s no one to challenge you,” he said.
The proposal has drawn opposition from teachers, school boards and parents across the state.
Deal said making changes in education is more difficult “than in any other arena of state government you will encounter because the status quo has been in effect for so long.”
He said he became interested in changing “chronically failing” schools when he was involved in changes in the state’s criminal justice system.
He said he asked the most common characteristic of those prisoners who were released and were back in prison within three years.
The “most common characteristic,” he said, was that 70 percent of those who went back to prison were high school dropouts.
The schools designated “chronically failing” by the state have 68,000 students, Deal said. That is more than the 52,000 people in prison in the state.
The governor presented the constitutional amendment on schools as an economic and moral issue.
He said without dramatic changes in the designated schools those students would have little opportunity for economic success in life. He said the state has added 575,000 jobs during his administration.
But, Deal added, “not a single one of those 575,000 jobs are going to be available” to school dropouts, and he said only 12 percent of the students in the chronically failing schools read on grade level at the third grade — the primary predictor of dropouts.
He said potential new businesses to the state asked about the quality of the state’s workforce and the quality of the public education system.
Georgia is “very strong in almost every category (business asks about) except that one,” Deal said, referring to the education system.
He noted that only about 35 percent of the state’s third-graders are viewed as reading on grade level.
He also emphasized the scale and difficulty of the challenge. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said.
When challenged about how long it would take to see results, Deal said he would like to say, “How long did it take to get in that situation? They didn’t get there overnight.”
He said the issue is generational and would take that long to overcome it.
However, he also said tackling the problem is only fair. The economic divide between the haves and have-nots in the country is many times “parallel to racial divides,” he said.
The only way “to narrow the economic gap,” Deal said, is to educate children.
Education reform should be “as high on those priorities as anything we do,” the governor said.
He also criticized “my hometown paper” — The Times — for opposing the constitutional amendment. Read the editorial. He characterized the press as ill-informed about the issue and said, “they don’t seem to take advantage of informing themselves before writing opinions.”
Deal called for challenging the status quo, regardless of the difficulty.
“The safest thing to do in politics is nothing,” he said. “I want to see us do something.”
Deal called good education “the heart and soul of the future of our education, the heart and soul of our state.”