Gubernatorial hopeful Nathan Deal released his education platform Tuesday at the state Capitol, calling for greater flexibility and prioritized spending in schools.
Flanked by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and other members of the Georgia General Assembly, Deal said job creation — which he considers the state's top priority — is reliant on a top-notch education system that focuses on math, science and technology.
"If we are going to have jobs, then we must have people who are trained and ready to fill those jobs," Deal said.
"We have many provisions in our platform, but we are talking specifics about the needs of the modern day and it relates to what in the education community is called STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics."
He said if elected, he will work with legislators and school officials to develop a program that will encourage Georgia's top science and math college students to become educators in those fields.
"The General Assembly has already taken a step in that direction by incentivizing math and science teachers," Deal said. "I'm proposing that we go further."
He suggested a funding increase of roughly $20 million to create a loan forgiveness program for potential teachers as well as professionals in the areas of science, math, engineering and technology.
He also proposed developing more charter schools and career academies with the additional funding.
Deal emphasized that the difference between his platform and that of Democratic opponent Roy Barnes — who has proposed restoring lost funding to Georgia schools to help boost student achievement — is that he plans to work mostly with existing resources to achieve his education goals.
"Unfortunately, Rep. Deal's solutions would open the door to school vouchers and starve our public education system that is currently experiencing teacher furloughs, larger class sizes and fewer school days. From day one, Roy's priority has been education," said Barnes spokeswoman Anna Ruth Williams. "With less than two months left until Election Day, (Deal) is just now getting around to letting educators and students know where he stands."
Deal devoted a large portion of his presentation to talking about greater local control for schools.
He said based on the results of surveys and interviews with teachers and other education professionals around the state, he would like to offer teachers greater flexibility in the classroom.
"As one of those responses from a school teacher said, ‘Just give us the time to teach and don't make us teach to a test,' " Deal said.
He pointed to the success of charter schools and career academies throughout the state as an example of opportunities for more educational freedom.
Another option he proposed for helping students stay interested in education is allowing them to "move on when ready" by providing more advanced coursework to students who quickly master their work, leaving teachers time to focus on students who need more help.
"If they can pass it, allow them to move on and not be bored sitting in the classroom. Give them the opportunity to explore other career choices and other areas of interest," Deal said.
Education is poised to be a top issue in this year's gubernatorial election. Barnes has tried to win back the teachers who helped defeat him in his 2002 run for governor with his own education plan. He has proposed competitive teacher salaries, smaller class sizes and an end to austerity measures such as teacher furlough days.
In his education platform, Barnes said he would fund these initiatives by ending special interest tax exemptions.