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Election 2018: Candidates for governor put their education ideas on the table
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Fair Street School fifth-graders Monserrat Nava and Jayden Jackson, both 11, browse through books Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in the school's media center. - photo by Scott Rogers

Republican Brian Kemp, Democrat Stacey Abrams and Libertarian Ted Metz will be on the ballot Nov. 6 seeking to become Georgia’s next governor.

The Times met with Kemp on Sept. 20 to discuss education issues, particularly school safety, and spoke with Metz over the phone Friday, Sept. 28.

Abrams was unavailable for a conversation before press time, but her plans have been made available on her campaign website.

School safety

Abrams wants to create a school safety and security capital task force that would inventory needs across the state and send resources to communities where school safety initiatives are not funded through local sources. Though  some school districts have used ESPLOST funds to pay for security upgrades, Abrams hopes to explore allowing those funds to be used for operational costs.

She also wants to build on Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, a behavior program that uses disciplinary data to develop schoolwide and individualized interventions. The program includes parent training and collaboration and acknowledging positive behavior. Funding school counselors, social workers and psychologists has also been proposed by the Abrams campaign as a way to address behavioral or mental health problems.

Abrams also plans to address school safety through gun control legislation, such as requiring universal background checks and creating a panel to find ways to keep guns out of the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

Abrams has expressed opposition to arming teachers, preferring to find other ways to address school safety.

“The only thing we need to arm teachers with are raises and the resources they need to educate our students,” she tweeted in May.

Kemp said if elected, he would establish a school safety division within the Georgia Department of Education, using reallocated existing funds. The division would be led by a former law enforcement official and would train districts in active shooter procedures and develop blueprints to improve school safety.

Under the plan, every Georgia public school would receive one-time funding of $30,000 for safety improvements. Local districts could decide how to best use that money, whether they want to hire a school resource officer or add new safety features to the building.

Kemp also wants to address mental health by funding at least one support counselor in each high school. That counselor could help students or staff who are dealing with mental illness, bullying, issues at home or drug use.

Hiring counselors would help lighten the burden on teachers and possibly prevent violent incidents at schools, he said.

“Just throwing additional money for just hardening the school is great. ... It doesn’t do you any good if you have a troubled student or quite honestly, a troubled teacher, or there’s something else going on with any other school employee that’s on the inside everyday,” Kemp said.

He believes local districts should make the decision about whether to arm teachers but is in general support of the idea.

Metz also supports arming teachers. His school safety proposals focus on infrastructure and practices in schools, such as extra bolts on doors or clear backpacks. Only having one entrance unlocked during the school day and screening people who go in could also help keep schools safer, he said. Improvements could be funded either through private donations or through state funding, Metz said.

Teacher support

Abrams has vowed to prioritize teacher pay in the budget if elected, especially increased salaries for education support professionals. She has also proposed that mentor teachers be compensated for the extra time they devote to work with new educators.

If elected, Abrams has said she wants to minimize high-stakes testing, as well as the influence of testing on teacher evaluations, to reduce pressure on teachers.

Like Abrams, Kemp wants to reduce the number and the impact of standardized tests. He has proposed a permanent teacher pay raise by $5,000 a year. That increase would cost about $6 million a year, and according to his campaign, would be funded by existing revenue.

Like his opponents, Metz would like to see fewer standardized tests. He also wants to address teacher burnout and said he has spoken with teachers who are overwhelmed by paperwork and “teaching to a test.”

“One of the reasons that we have such a need for teachers is because there’s a lot of turnover that has to do with workplace dissatisfaction,” he said.

Metz said he would like Georgia teachers to make the national average salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average teacher salary in 2017 was $58,780. In Georgia, teachers made $56,850.

School funding

Each candidate has committed to fully funding the Quality Basic Education formula, which determines funding for each public school district in the state. The current fiscal year is the first time that the state has fully funded the formula since its inception in 1985.

Abrams supports reevaluating the QBE formula to address the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes and help districts that do not have as many supplemental resources. Kemp has also said he wants to reevaluate the QBE formula and would work with the state superintendent to determine how to improve the funding method.

Metz also said the QBE formula needs to be re-evaluated, but should be funded while it is in effect. Cutting back on administrative positions and reallocating those funds could help free up more money for districts, he said.

“There’s a lot of overhead in education that could be reduced or eliminated just on a needs basis,” Metz said. “We don’t need to have so many administrators per school district.”

Early childhood education

During his campaign, Kemp has promised to protect lottery funding for pre-K programs and continue the incentive program that provides Childcare and Parent Services funding for qualified child care facilities.

Abrams has proposed a scholarship for families who are spending more than 7 to 10 percent of their incomes on child care that could be used for home-based care, child care or preschool. She has also proposed tax credits of up to $1,000 to reward child care workers for professional development.

Metz said one possible way to increase access to child care is to open facilities inside high schools, where students who have an interest in early childhood education could work to gain experience.

Removing some regulatory requirements could also open up opportunities for people to operate nontraditional day care programs, such as programs in retirement homes, Metz said.