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Gov. Deal's state-of-the-state speech: Clear on 2 percent raise for teachers, but vague on Plan B for failing schools

In his state-of-the-state address today, Gov. Nathan Deal announced a 2 percent raise for teachers that will be built into the pay scale. On his "Plan B" for failing schools, Deal was vague, saying only he was working with legislators to craft how the state can address underperforming elementary schools.

With his takeover district firmly rejected by voters in November, Deal has been studying how to inject the state into the management and direction of failing schools under existing laws. But he didn't spell out an alternative to his defeated Opportunity School District, although lawmakers say he may utilize the flexibility contracts some districts signed to impose consequences when achievement provisions are not met.

Deal may also press districts to allow students in schools deemed failing to transfer to other schools, a problematic solution as some rural districts have no other schools and top schools in suburban Atlanta are often at capacity with no seats for transfers.

Teachers are not the only state employees to get raises. Deal also said, " budget proposal includes, on average, a 19 percent pay raise for DFCS caseworkers so that we can both ensure a competitive salary for those who fill these vital roles and so that we can recruit and retain the best possible candidates to look after the safety of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens. That same desire to attract and retain quality public servants extends throughout the state workforce, which is why I recommended and this legislative body approved a 3 percent allocation for a merit, recruitment and retention pay increase for state employees last year. My FY2018 budget proposal also accentuates this positive with another increase of a 2 percent allocation."

The governor maintains he has increased education spending, but the Georgia Budget &  Policy Institute notes 90 percent of increases in state funding went to three areas:

-Partial restoration of austerity cut

-Student enrollment growth & routine teacher salary adjustments

-Rising retirement costs

Here is what Deal said:

In recognition of the crucial roles that they play and the difficult challenges they face in the course of their work, my budget proposal for this upcoming fiscal year includes a 2 percent salary increase built into the pay scale for all authorized state teacher positions. This is in addition to the three percent merit pay increase included in this current fiscal year’s budget.

As our educators accentuate the positives in our children and eliminate the negatives, we should latch onto the affirmative and reward them for that invaluable service. As we do so, we should also seek to eliminate whatever systemic negatives are preventing students and teachers alike from realizing their full potential.

Currently, the greatest negative in the education landscape of Georgia is the number of children trapped in failing schools. 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 – over 20,000 more students than we spoke of last fall. Almost 70 percent of the chronically failing schools – 106 to be exact – serve elementary students.

It should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, that this is unacceptable. If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year.

Since the vast majority of those chronically failing schools serve elementary-aged children, our proposals 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 impacts all of us, then our reading comprehension scores, math skills, graduation rates and the quality of our workforce will all improve considerably.

To that end, my office is working closely with Lt. Gov. Cagle, Speaker Ralston, House Chairman Brooks Coleman, Rep. Kevin Tanner, Senate Chairman Lindsey Tippins, Sen. Freddie Powell Sims and others to craft legislation that will be presented to you this session. I want to thank them for their efforts to remove this negative so that our children’s futures will be brighter, our state’s economic prospects more sure and our global reputation all the more notable.

For those who will contend that the real issue is lack of resources, let me remind them that we have increased K-12 spending by 2.017 billion dollars over the last four years, which includes my fiscal year FY18 proposal. That translates into roughly 50 percent of all new growth in state revenue being dedicated to K-12 public education.

It is not enough to pour more and more money on a problem in hopes that it will go away. By addressing this negative, the students of today will be prepared for the jobs of tomorrow – jobs that are already on their way to our communities.

Here are two related AJC videos on the budget and education:


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.