Governor talks education, budget in State of the State

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Georgia’s governor has big plans to reform education and continue to grow the state’s economy in 2017.

Governor Nathan Deal delivered his State of the State address in the state House of Representatives Wednesday morning. Deal’s speech was upbeat, centering on the things going well for Georgia.

“In 1944, Georgia’s own Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics for a song titled ‘Accentuate The Positive,’“ said Gov. Deal. “The most memorable lines from that song are: ‘You’ve got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative.’”

Deal trumpeted the state’s falling unemployment rate to 5.3 percent and the growth of its rainy day fund to $2.033 billion. 

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The governor announced that his budget proposal includes two percent pay raises for teachers that will be built into the state pay scale as well as raises for caseworkers with the Division of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, at an average of 19 percent. But Deal acknowledged that the state still has work to do. 

In November, voters soundly rejected his Opportunity School District amendment that would have paved the way for the state to intervene in chronically failing schools. Now, lawmakers plan to draft new legislation to try to address the issue.

“Currently, the greatest negative in the education landscape of Georgia is the number of children trapped in failing schools,” Deal said.  “Two years ago, there were 127 chronically failing schools with roughly 68,000 enrolled students. Now that we have the data from the last school year, we find that there were 153 schools that had a failing score for three consecutive years. Those 153 chronically underperforming schools served almost 89,000 students last school year.”

The governor also took aim at critics of his plan by saying, “it should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, that this is unacceptable.”

President of the Georgia Association of Educators, Dr. Sid Chapman, said that characterization was not accurate and that classrooms across the state are full of innovation as teachers work to deal with the issues that poverty creates.

“We’ve said all along, it’s a community thing not just what’s in the classroom,” explained Chapman.  [Be]ause there are great, wonderful teachers in these schools and there are wonderful students in these schools, but they come to school with a lot of baggage and we need to be able to address that and you can’t address that just with a dollar sign or just with, you know, a test score.”

VIDEO REPORT: State of the State address

According to Governor Deal, the majority of the schools the state classifies as failing are elementary schools and that is where he wants to focus state reforms.

“Our prospects for addressing this issue will place an emphasis on elementary schools.  If we can reverse this alarming trend early on, if we can eliminate this negative that directly or indirectly affects all of us, we will see our reading comprehension scores, our math skills, our graduation rates and the quality of our workforce in general improve,” Deal told lawmakers.

Legislators continue to finalize a bill to address failing schools and plan to file it in the next few weeks.

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