Gov. Deal proposes plan to fix failing Georgia schools

It is not a secret that the state of Georgia has one of the worst educational systems in the country. It is also an albatross hung around the Peach State's neck of the high school drop out rate is at deplorable levels.
Gov. Nathan Deal has proposed a plan to begin to obliterate the deplorable conditions that created a failing system. The two-term governor also addressed the state's overburdened bridges and roads.
Take a look at what he had to say before the General Assembly at the Georgia state house:
Today marks the fifth year that I have reported to you, the people’s
representatives, on the state of our state. This is our annual checkup exam on the
body politic, where we measure our vitals, celebrate areas of great health and seek
cures for what ails us. In each succeeding year, we’ve seen the green shoots of our
economy grow a little taller. Each year, we’ve seen more Georgians return to work or
get their first job. Each year, we’ve seen hundreds of more businesses open or
relocate here. Each year, steady revenue growth has allowed us to slowly mend the
ravages wrought by the Great Recession. Now, our economy is seeing positive growth
with thousands of new jobs added every month. We’re seeing the tell-tale signs of
cranes and bulldozers humming on newly cleared land. We’re seeing home values
recover and Georgia families rebuild their savings. And Georgia has been named the
No. 1 place in the nation in which to do business by several major rating agencies
and has repeated that designation by one of them already. In short, I’m here to
report to you today that the state of our state is strong, and getting stronger
every day.
But for every milestone we reach, for every victory we attain, for every improvement
we achieve, new challenges await. Certainly, there are those who focus only on the
negative, zeroed in on areas where we should do better. They downplay any progress
as “not good enough.” To them I say: Celebrating our progress puts our challenges in
perspective and reminds us that together we can achieve greatness. Our shortcomings
don’t go unacknowledged. They’re simply what we’re going to address next.
When focused only on the negative, the job before us can seem overwhelming. These
feelings are not new to our generation. Atop President Kennedy’s desk sat a
fisherman’s prayer: “Oh, God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” When
confronting the challenges of 10 million people – challenges that can appear
insurmountable – it’s easy to feel that the tools we’ve been given aren’t up to the
When it comes to our constituents’ needs in education, health care, transportation
and public safety, the sea seems so great and our boat so small. We may have 10
million challenges, but we also have 10 million oars.
In the turbulent waters of recession and recovery, we have rowed steadily forward.
The synchronized beat of unified oars has reset the rhythm of our economy. Georgians
have spoken clearly that the conservative principles, which have guided our
decisions, the very ones that have brought us out of the recession, must continue to
guide our future growth. These include keeping our government small, prioritizing
and balancing our budget, and emphasizing a strong business climate.
State government cannot address the legitimate needs of our citizens without
adequate revenue. Last year we based our budget on an anticipated revenue growth of
3.4 percent. That was in keeping with our pattern of conservative budgeting. So when
fiscal year 2014 ended, our actual revenue was 4.8 percent. That differential
between what we spent and what we collected is deposited into our Rainy Day Fund.
Every budget cycle since I have been governor we have added to that fund so that it
has increased by 643 percent since I took office.
Annual revenue growth, coupled with conservative spending and a growing Rainy Day
Fund are positive evidence that Georgia is better today than it was last year.
Since I took office, over 319,000 new private sector jobs have been created in
Georgia with nearly 93,000 of those coming in the past twelve months. The
announcement last week that Mercedes-Benz USA is moving its North American
headquarters to Georgia is further evidence that our state will continue to be a
leader in job creation. With job growth comes population growth. Georgia is now the
eighth most populous state in the nation, moving from the number 10 position in just
four years. People don’t move to a state unless it provides them with opportunities.
The Mercedes slogan is “the Best or Nothing.” The company that accepts nothing but
the best chose Georgia… I’ll take that. And in the near future, Porsche North
America will open their headquarters near the Atlanta airport.
But let’s not forget our first major automotive manufacturer in modern times, Kia,
which employs some 3,000 Georgians and whose supplier base continues to expand in
our state. Kia’s example told the world that we have the quality workforce and
business environment needed to thrive in the automotive industry. Kia officials
remind me often that their West Point Georgia plant produces the highest quality
vehicle in their worldwide chain.
Furthermore, home prices are up in the past year and up significantly since 2011, an
example of the resurgence of this sector and confidence in the market. Construction,
manufacturing and other key Georgia industries continue to rebound.  And as
Georgians experience growth in their incomes, this leaves more money for the types
of things our fellow citizens want to be doing, rather than just the essentials.
Virtually every reliable indicator points to one thing, a growing economy. And to
those of you who have been paying attention, you will notice that the unemployment
rate, the prodigal son of indicators, is even falling back in line. For those who
were too long unemployed or underemployed, for their relatives who watched them
struggle to get hired, and for the Georgians who understand that a working economy
is an economy in which people work, we are making a difference.  The ocean of need
is vast, but shrinking, and we will continue to close the distance between where we
are and where we wish to be.
Still, need does exist. Over 19,000 students dropped out between grades nine and 12
over the past school year. That is far too many. Neither Georgia nor these young
people can afford the disparaging effects that typically result when someone leaves
high school prematurely. This is why over the next few years we intend to take a
comprehensive look at how we can make K-12 education more accessible and more
effective. A child that does not graduate from high school is that much less
prepared for the workforce, that much less prepared for college and that much more
prepared for a life behind bars.
I am establishing an Education Reform Commission to study a number of questions
regarding our education system, such as increasing access to Georgia’s world class
early learning programs, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in our
classrooms, and expanding school options for Georgia’s families. This group, which
will be composed of legislators, educators and a variety of other stakeholders, will
recommend potential improvements to me by August 1 of this year. I fully anticipate
this process to be as successful as the one involving our justice reforms after
which it was modeled.
In addition, a subset of this group will examine the most appropriate ways to
modernize our QBE funding formula from the 1980s. This model is older than every
student in our classrooms and some of their parents. Just as most of us wouldn’t
dress our children in parachute pants and jelly shoes and we wouldn’t teach them
about computers on a Commodore 64, neither should we educate them under a 1980s
funding formula. Our students are now using iPads and Androids. Why tie them to a
desk when technology can take them to the moon and back?
This undertaking will require detailed work. My vision is to create a formula driven
by student need that provides local school and district leaders with real control
and flexibility. It is our hope that funding changes based on the commission’s
recommendations will go into effect as early as the 2016-2017 school year.
While we must certainly address the outdated funding formula, education still
remains a top priority in our budgets. This year’s budget coupled with my proposal
for next year’s budget represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars
for K-12 education. Working together, we have devoted the largest percentage of the
state budget to K-12 education of any governor and General Assembly in the last 50
years. Now, the focus is on turning those dollars into academic progress. I look
forward to working with all of you to accomplish that goal.
However, no matter how well we fund education, the fact of the matter is that far
too many students are trapped in a failing Georgia school. Roughly 23 percent of
schools have received either a D or an F, which constitutes a failing grade, for the
past three consecutive years. When the system fails, our children have little chance
of succeeding.
New options can enrich lives, brighten futures and rekindle hope. Three years ago,
the legislators here called for and the voters of this state overwhelmingly approved
the charter school amendment. I have good news: It’s making a positive difference.
This year, I am asking you to continue the trend of restoring hope and opportunity
to areas of our state that could use a helping hand.
I am proposing a constitutional amendment to establish an Opportunity School
District. It would authorize the state to step in to help rejuvenate failing public
schools and rescue children languishing in them. This model has already been used
successfully in other states. My office has been in contact with a student from New
Orleans, who tells us he could not read until he was 12. Now, because of the
Recovery School District in New Orleans, Troy Simon is going to Bard College in New
York, where he intends to earn a degree in American Literature. His life has
changed. There is perhaps no sweeter irony – the young man who couldn’t read at all
may one day teach others to read, and read well.
There are many excuses that will be offered for why schools are failing— the
students come from families in poverty, their parents are dysfunctional, they don’t
care because they have no hope.
Let’s stop making excuses— If we want to break the cycle of poverty, let’s educate
those children so that they have the skills to escape poverty, if we want to
interrupt the cycle of dysfunctional families, let’s educate the children in those
homes so that their families of the future will return to normalcy; if we want our
young people to have hope, let’s give them the greatest beacon of hope we can confer
on them— a quality education that leads to a good job, a stable family and the
stairway to the future.
There will be those who will argue that the problem of failing schools can be solved
by spending more money. They ignore the fact that many of our failing schools
already spend far more money per child than the state average. The problem is not
money. More money without fundamental changes in the delivery system will not alter
the results; it will only make state and local taxpayers greater enablers of chronic
If we take this step, more students will be able to gain employment or go to college
when they graduate, more employers will be satisfied with our state’s workforce, and
more of their colleagues might just decide to locate in our state. Above all,
students and parents will relinquish the burden of having nowhere to go to get a
proper education, something no family should have to experience in the first place.
Liberals cannot defend leaving a child trapped in a failing school that sentences
them to a life in poverty. Conservatives like me cannot argue that each child in
Georgia already has the same opportunity to succeed and compete on his or her own
merits. We have a moral duty to help these children who can’t help themselves. The
sea is great and the boat is small, but the boat must not have first and second
class seating.
I am calling on you to do your part this session to get this referendum on the
ballot so that Georgians can assure that a child’s hopes of success aren’t
determined by his or her ZIP Code. Our places of learning should be where a child
learns triumph, not defeat.
We have experienced triumphs in our criminal justice system, where we have tamed
some rough seas. Working with those of you here and others throughout this state, we
have enhanced safety and nurtured second chances. We have combined taxpayer savings
with personal salvation. In return, our reforms are closing the revolving door that
has led too many Georgians back into our prison system. Crime may not pay, but
stopping it does.
I have already shared with you just last month and in the Inaugural address the
promising results of some of our efforts.  My budget this year will reflect our
commitment to these important reforms. The next step we are taking to improve our
delivery of justice will further make Georgia a leader in this area.
On many occasions, one troubled family or neighborhood will deal with multiple
agencies, from Pardons and Parole to DFCS to the Department of Juvenile Justice to
the Department of Corrections. Under current policy, these agencies often don’t
coordinate effectively on these cases. This fails to bring a holistic approach to
the needs at hand, and it doesn’t deliver services efficiently.
For this reason, I am proposing to create the Department of Community Supervision to
eliminate redundancy and enhance communication between these related groups. This
new agency will pull from the relevant existing portions of Corrections, Juvenile
Justice and Pardons and Paroles. While the Division of Family and Children Services
will not contribute to the agency itself, we will be including the Director of DFCS
on the Board of Community Supervision to facilitate the transfer of appropriate
Recently we have seen tremendous growth in the number of child welfare
investigations, due in part to our 24-hour call center. This is why we will continue
to fund additional resources to meet this unfortunate need, including support for
278 additional caseworkers.
In addition, the Child Welfare Reform Council, which I created in 2014, has released
its review of the Division of Family and Children’s Services. To address some of
their recommendations, I am proposing in my budget this year that we fund several
upgrades. These include beginning a mentor program for supervisors, providing for
greater career and salary growth potential, promoting the safety and resources
available to caseworkers, and improving the recruitment and training of foster
parents. By caring for our caseworkers, we can better care for our children in need.
I am happy to say the Council will continue its work in the upcoming year.
One of our most vulnerable populations is our children who are suffering from
seizures. Last year, we set in motion trials at our state medical school to test the
possibility of using cannabis oil to treat severe seizures of those young people in
a safe and nonintoxicating way. Those trials involving Georgia’s children have
already begun and will continue to expand.
This year I hope to sign legislation to decriminalize cannabis oil in Georgia so
that families who need it and who obtain it legally will not be prosecuted for
possession of it. Let me be clear, I do not support the legalization of marijuana
for recreational purposes. We’re focused narrowly on an oil that contains fractional
amounts of THC – the chemical in marijuana that intoxicates a user. We want to find
a pathway to bring our children home from Colorado without becoming Colorado.
We still face the significant – and more complicated – issue of access. That’s why,
in addition to decriminalization, I’m proposing a study committee to research a
proper role for the state of Georgia in the ongoing debates about the types of
medical conditions that can benefit from this product, and how we can best address
this in a logical and controlled manner. I know, for many families, time is of the
essence. I want us to answer the question of access as quickly as we possibly can
while going through the proper steps to ensure safety and compliance with federal
laws. There’s broad agreement we must do something and that we can do something.
Let’s also agree that we must do it right.
Even a small boat conquering the sea must dock every once in a while. We must
therefore ensure that our network of bridges, roads and other vital infrastructure
are well maintained and that the increasing transportation needs of our population
are met. So, let me present to you our options.
Since only three regions in the state invested in Plan A, a regional one-percent
sales tax for designated infrastructure projects, we acted to implement Plan B,
which includes reprioritized funding and a focus on the most essential projects that
will target our most congested areas. For example, we are constructing new capacity
express lanes along large stretches of I-75 and 575. We are also extending the
managed lanes on I-85. Over the next four years, we will open to traffic more than
$1.1 billion dollars’ worth of new, reliable interstate lanes in Metro Atlanta, the
largest interstate expansion since the 1980s.
We are making further progress in the form of our I-285/GA-400 interchange, which
will ease congestion for hundreds of thousands of travelers each day. Let us not
forget those things we have already accomplished, including the removal of the tolls
on GA 400 and the opening of the I-85/GA 400 connector ramps, which many in our
state are already using. And of course, we continue to construct the Jimmy Deloach
Parkway extension, the Fall Line Freeway and other road improvements connecting
South Georgia cities.
At the same time, other important projects lack the funding necessary to proceed.
This brings me to our next option. Plan C—a transportation plan to which this
General Assembly and I can agree that would address the ongoing needs of maintenance
and repair, as well as freight corridor and other transportation improvements. I
believe this is something that can and should be accomplished.
A need does exist. The excise tax, which is a per gallon flat fee, has remained the
same since 1971. That’s 44 years. In that time, the fuel efficiency for the average
vehicle has almost doubled, which means the amount of excise tax collected for each
mile driven has roughly been cut in half. And the federal government has mandated
new standards that would again double the miles per gallon for the average vehicle
over the next 10 years, meaning that the amount of excise tax collected for every
mile traveled will continue to shrink every year. And that doesn’t even account for
inflation. In 2014 dollars, we collected approximately 17 percent less in state
Motor Fuel Funds per capita for transportation than we did a quarter of a century
ago, in part because of greater fuel efficiency. At the same time, we now have
millions more people travelling on our roads. According to industry experts, simply
maintaining what we currently have on our roadways requires a minimum of hundreds of
millions of dollars in new revenue each year. Some industry experts even suggest
it’s more than $1 billion a year.
Over the years, we have added more highway to monitor, patrol and repair. In
addition, our state has seen significantly more freight on our roadways, with more
and more goods and raw materials entering through the Port of Savannah.  We’re
already the second busiest container port on the East Coast, and we’re getting
busier. It’s estimated that truck traffic out of the port will increase by 50
percent in less than 10 years. We have to be ready to meet that need.
Without Plan C, a new strategy for transportation investment, we will be forced to
go to Plan D, which is to do nothing. If that is our plan, then our roads will
slowly slip into disrepair, the safety of our citizens will be jeopardized, and our
economy will be stagnated by increased congestion. That is unacceptable.
We are currently operating at a rate that requires over 50 years to resurface every
state road in Georgia. If your road is paved when you graduate high school, by the
time it is paved again you will be eligible for Social Security. We must increase
the percentage of roads being resurfaced annually. With only current funding levels,
new capital projects will have to wait as we tend to our existing transportation
network. If we do nothing, we would continue to have to depend on the federal
government, whose transportation funds are also dwindling. If we should choose not
to maintain and improve our infrastructure, economic development would stall,
companies would be unable to conduct their business efficiently, commuters would
waste more time and gas sitting in traffic, and no one would be satisfied.
For those of you who believe as I do that there are certain powers left to the
states and their citizens—a principal set forth in our nation’s 10th Amendment—here
is one way we can put our belief into practice. If we become less dependent on
federal revenue for our transportation projects in Georgia, we will avoid the
regulations and extra costs associated with federal involvement; we will get more
for our money in new roads; and it will be one of the best signals that the state of
Georgia is willing to spend our money to solve our problems. Four years ago, we
decided that our state needed to develop its own reservoirs to be less dependent on
federal water resources. Maybe it’s time we apply that same logic to transportation.
We must maintain and improve our roads and bridges; we must provide congestion
relief; and we must prepare for more freight and more businesses. We can debate how
much it will cost to do something; but let us not forget how much it will cost to do
I do not believe that we Georgians will choose to do nothing. We know the problems;
let’s now resolve to agree on the solutions. That’s the outlook we must embrace as
we tackle all of the challenges we have discussed today. The sea is indeed vast, but
our ten million oars row onward. Let us as the leaders of this state demonstrate
that we can row together in sequence so that our boat will move steadily forward on
a charted course of progress, with the shoreline of Promise and Prosperity on the
I pray for wisdom for all of us as we carry out the public’s trust, so that we can
give Georgians a state that’s even better tomorrow than it is today. May God bless
you and may God continue to bless the state of Georgia.


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