Teachers must stay on alert on doings under the Gold Dome

Published 3:05 pm Friday, February 14, 2020

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Georgia’s public schoolteachers must feel like a pinata. At one end of the Gold Dome, Gov. Brian Kemp has delivered on promised pay raises and now is trying to get rid of some of the onerous and burdensome mandatory tests thought up by a bunch of navel-gazing bureaucrats who have no skin in the game.

At the other end, legislators recently made a clumsy attempt to mess with the Teacher Retirement System, which administers retirement benefits for employees of local school systems and the University System of Georgia, until they got inundated with blow back from teachers who don’t trust our intrepid public servants in the Legislature to always do the right thing.

Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, chairman of the House Retirement Committee, got his political head handed to him. “It is obvious the people who wrote the emails, most of them, had no idea what was in the bill,” he grumped, “They just wrote what they were told to write. I deleted every one of them.” Oh, boohoo. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the legislative kitchen.

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You remember Tommy Benton, don’t you? He’s the guy who opposed the erection of a statue to Martin Luther King Jr. at the state Capitol and said the Ku Klux Klan “was not so much a racist thing, but a vigilante thing to keep law and order” and made “people straighten up.” And somebody is letting him screw around with teachers’ retirement? I would sooner trust Gomer Pyle.

Now, it seems Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan is preparing to unleash another private school voucher scheme called Educational Savings Accounts on us. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a report from the Heartland Institute, which is located in — uh — the heartland somewhere. The group is perhaps best known for extolling the virtues of (cough! cough!) vaping and for a bungled effort to use the Unabomber, aka Ted Kaczynski, in an ad campaign to pooh-pooh global warming (Ted certainly has the time. He is in the federal pokey, serving eight life sentences for murder.)

They sent a report on Educational Savings Accounts to our intrepid public servants under the Gold Dome, but with a footnote stating that nothing in the report was “intended to influence the passage of legislation” and that their report on ESAs “does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute.” You just can’t make this stuff up.

I was reminded of American humorist Will Rogers’ comment, “I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Ol’ Will would have loved Heartland. I certainly do — enough to write a column about them and their ringing (kinda) endorsement of private school vouchers.

Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear in the Marietta Daily Journal soon after but a piece in defense of Educational Savings Accounts by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

However, it didn’t come from the lieutenant governor or his communications staff. It came via a public relations firm called Oak Grove Communications, which says it is “a full-service media relations and communications firm that has represented some of the most noted figures in government, politics, business, think tanks, non-profits and opinion leaders over the past two decades.”

Not only that but Oak Grove Communications further states they have “strategically moved public opinion and influenced policy makers” on a number of issues, including school choice.

Their principal, Susan Meyers, noted the paper had “run some columns by Dick Yarborough (sic) about the Lieutenant Governor and his support of giving kids more school choice.” “Some” is two columns. One, a friendly piece on the lieutenant governor which didn’t mention ESAs and one, not so friendly, on ESAs which didn’t mention him.

Was this a pro bono effort by Oak Grove Communications in their public-spirited zeal to “strategically move public opinion,” or did somebody pay them? The lieutenant governor’s office? Some private school voucher special interest group? Ted Kaczynski? Inquiring minds want to know.

Schoolteachers, I would suggest you stay on the alert. The state government giveth and it looks as though they are now planning to taketh away, as in more money out of the state budget for private school scholarships while they are also trying to cut funding in areas like health care and rural initiatives.

While I may not represent noted political figures in government, politics, business, et al. as does Oak Grove Communications, dear public schoolteachers, I do proudly represent you. And I would not have it any other way.