Gov. Nathan Deal promoted his two education programs for the next year and touted his administration’s support for public education Wednesday morning in a talk to new employees of the Hall County School District.
Deal is a Hall County resident and a neighbor of Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield, and his wife, Sandra, is a retired Hall County teacher.
The orientation for new employees was the kickoff of the Hall County school year. It is being held through Friday for new teachers. The rest of the county teachers will report to work Monday, and students start Aug. 5.
Deal said he expects the next legislative session to take up the recommendations of the Education Reform Commission, which included Schofield in its members.
He said the state’s formula for funding schools has not changed substantially in more than 30 years.
The commission’s recommendations would change that. Deal emphasized, however, that a new formula would not reduce the amount of state money to any school system. Some districts that would get less state money would be “grandfathered,” he said.
Deal also said the commission’s recommendations would “reward the teachers who do more than what they would be expected to do.”
He added, “I think that’s an appropriate thing to do.”
Merit pay for teachers is one of the more controversial issues in public education.
The governor also said a teachers’ advisory committee, which he named this summer, would review the recommendations of the commission. That committee is expected to report this fall — before the legislature begins meeting in January.
The committee includes two Hall County teachers, Dawn Bishop from Lanier Elementary School and Marla Lear from World Language Academy. The committee is made up of 90 teachers from all levels, subject areas and parts of the state, Deal said.
The commission’s recommendations also would give local school boards “more flexibility,” the governor said.
Deal’s other education push is a constitutional amendment, which will be on the November ballot.
The “opportunity school district” would allow the state to take over “chronically failing districts,” which Deal said are districts that fail to “score above an F” for three or more consecutive years.
The governor portrayed the proposal as a way to break the links between inmates in state prisons and school dropouts. He said a study from when he first took office in 2011 showed that 70 percent of state inmates are dropouts.
Deal presented the constitutional amendment as a choice between the status quo in education and prisons or breaking the pattern — reducing the number of prisoners and the number of dropouts.
“I take offense at some with the educational system who are so opposed to doing something about this blight on education that they will be satisfied with the status quo,” Deal said.
The Professional Association of Georgia Educators and Georgia Association of Educators both oppose the constitutional amendment.
Deal said spending money on youngsters in their early years — teaching them to read at grade level by the end of the third grade — is more useful than paying $21,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison.
“That’s a whole lot more expensive than to try to educate them in our schools,” he said.
Deal called reading a “fundamental building block” and said only about one-third of Georgia students read on grade level at the end of third grade.
“We must do better than that,” he declared.
He said the state still has “a lot of work to do” in K-12 education. That is critical to the state’s workforce, which he pointed to as the top issue for companies coming here, and for the future of school children.
He told the teachers, “those children’s eyes are on you every second of every day” and repeated the mantra for the meeting: “What you do matters.”