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Gov. Deal urges education reform during Georgia State of the State address

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Nathan Deal

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal delivers his State of the State address on the House floor at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Gov. Nathan Deal urged state lawmakers to spend the 2016 legislative session studying sweeping changes to Georgia’s education system, and that is good news, according to a local superintendent and a local legislator.

“There was probably a lot of feedback from school systems,” said John Jackson, interim superintendent of Floyd County Schools. “Others like us were

probably questioning the changes to the formula for school funding.”

The formula change is not the only difference, but the other changes suggested are more palatable, Jackson said.

“Other changes are good,” he said. “You have lower class sizes, increasing pre-K classes, the Move On When Ready initiative, I can’t imagine anyone having problems with those.”

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she feels it is important to take time to look over the proposed changes.

“There are very strong elements there,” Dempsey said. “When you are looking at things like teacher compensation and rules about testing, it is very important to take your time.”

Deal said he is willing to give the legislators a full year to consider those changes, delaying legislation until the 2017 session and implementation until July 2018, when the fiscal year budget takes effect.

“To those who are either inflexible or cynical, I would ask them to consider the words of former Prime Minister of Great Britain Tony Blair, who made the following observation, and I quote: ‘The scope, speed and scale of change demands that we educate students for a future vastly different from our past,’” Deal said in his State of the State address on Wednesday.

Deal, a Republican in the second year of his final four-year term, appointed a commission last year to study all aspects of Georgia’s education system.

The panel’s recommendations would allocate money per student, factoring in poverty, enrollment in gifted or special education classes and grade level. The group also advocated for more flexibility on testing, more support to charter schools and letting students advance grade levels when ready.

But a recommendation that districts set their own pay scale for teachers, rather than using a statewide system based on experience and training, struck a nerve with educator groups. They argue that linking pay to student performance on standardized tests and other measures is unfair and won’t be an incentive to teachers.

Deal told teachers that the change “does not mean that you are not appreciated.”

“Just as a sailor should not be insulted when someone repairs a leak in his boat and replaces his oars with a motor, neither should our teachers take offense when we try to do the metaphorical equivalent for them,” Deal said.

Deal promised his budget would increase education spending by $300,000, money he wants school districts to use for a 3 percent teacher pay raise. He urged parents to become allies to teachers, making sure kids attend school every day, do homework and not be disruptive at school.

“I know you love your children and want them to succeed in life, so please do those things and you and your family will be richly rewarded,” Deal said.

Rome News-Tribune Staff Writer Kristina Wilder contributed to this report.

5 things to know

ATLANTA (AP) — Here’s a look at five key positions from Gov. Nathan Deal, laid out in his State of the State address:

  • Recommends a 3 percent pay increase for all state employees. He said many worked through difficult budget cuts. Several agencies also have a high turnover rate that could be improved with better pay, he said.
  • Wants to increase K-12 education spending by $300 million. He will encourage local school districts to use the money for a 3 percent pay raise to teachers.
  • Plans to recommend some criminal justice changes to lawmakers, including more discretion to sentencing judges on certain charges. Deal told reporters that will not include so-called “seven deadly sins” charges: murder, rape, armed robbery with firearm, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, aggravated sexual battery, or voluntary manslaughter. The Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform has developed those proposals.
  • Plans to include $26.2 million for salary increases for pre-K teachers and an additional $7.9 million for a 3 percent merit pay increase in budget proposal. The increase is one recommendation from Deal’s commission on education that doesn’t require independent legislative action.
  • Maintains his opposition to accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. He said the state’s Medicaid program grew 15.7 percent between fiscal year 2013 and 2017, and blamed President Barack Obama’s signature health care law for $2.1 million “just to turn in the paper work.”