Candidates seek teachers’ vote

Published 8:01 pm Friday, September 17, 2010

Pay attention, teachers.

The two main gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Roy Barnes and Republican Nathan Deal, are trying to make nice with you.

At least until they get themselves elected. Then all bets are off.

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Roy Barnes says he is going to provide you with salary increases, smaller class sizes and a ban on furloughs. He also wants to bring two teachers into the governor’s office to act as advisers. (What? Ask classroom teachers for advice? What is this world coming to? Have we run out of education bureaucrats?)

Barnes says he can come up with the roughly $1.2 billion needed to implement his programs and replace the cuts made by Gov. George E. Perdue over the past eight years.

His opponent, Rep. Nathan Deal, has unveiled education proposals that are more modest. He told the Brunswick News recently he would implement a program called Move on When Ready which would let teachers decide if a student is prepared to move up a grade during the school year instead of waiting to be promoted at the end of the year. Deal says it would alleviate the boredom of students who are ready to advance and is an idea he got from teachers.

Deal said he would emphasize science, technology, engineering and math in our schools and would offer incentives to college students to earn teaching certificates in those disciplines. If they come back and teach in Georgia their student loans would be forgiven.

Libertarian candidate John Monds proposes a tax credit up to $4,000 for parents who choose to educate their children in a private school or at home. Since he has about as much chance of being elected governor as I do of becoming poster boy of the ACLU, that is all the space he and his ideas get here.

I’m not taking sides in the race but Roy Barnes has one crackerjack idea that needs to be the first order of business in the next session of the General Assembly: Repeal the Georgia GOAL scholarship program. How we ever let this turkey fly, I will never know.

Simply stated, parents can get up to a $2,500 tax credit by donating money for scholarships for public school children wanting to attend private schools. The cost of this program is $50 million.

Our state is in an economic slump of historic proportions and the current crowd under the Gold Dome has cut the education budget to the bone while leaving $50 million on the table to enable kids to abandon cash-strapped public schools.

Only in Georgia!

Why should the State of Georgia be underwriting such initiatives? Let the private schools come up with the scholarship money. Why is the state in the business of promoting private schools, which are perfectly capable of promoting themselves? Why would the State Department of Education even agree to such a scheme?

I would be curious to see how the major candidates for state school superintendent, Republican John Barge and Democrat Joe Martin, stand on this issue.

I plan to ask them and will let you know what they say.

Interestingly, neither gubernatorial candidate says much about the two biggest problems facing public education: Disparate voices and apathetic parents.

Every time I write about education, I hear from some education group informing me of a fancy-sounding initiative to address public school issues and which includes little or no involvement from other education groups. Everybody views public education from their own special interest prism.

At the same time, parents are being encouraged by politicians to desert public schools in the name of “choice” with my tax dollars instead of trying to fix what needs mending and the same education groups seem to be sitting on their rumps designing Power Point presentations and creating cutesy posters instead of expressing indignation at the attacks on public education.

Read this carefully, folks: We are not going to improve public education by running away from the problem. It is going to require true commitment by all involved parties which is sadly lacking at the moment.

So, teachers, enjoy your moment in the spotlight as our gubernatorial candidates curry your favor but don’t get your hopes up.

As long as legislators are willing to shortchange state revenues with tax breaks for donations to private school scholarships and encourage parents to cut-and-run, the public education landscape in Georgia looks bleak, no matter what the our politicians promise.

Talk is cheap, but right now the inmates are definitely running the asylum