Editor’s Note: in order to provide accurate coverage of the topics Georgia Governor Nathan Deal spoke on Tuesday in Thomaston, this article has been printed in two parts Today’s article is Part 2, with the first part being published in the Friday, August 18 edition of The Thomaston Times.
Education was one of the main topics covered by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal when he flew into Thomaston on August 18 for a special meeting with the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary clubs of Thomaston. The visit and speech were arranged by Thomaston Kiwanis Vice President Melvin Fallin, who is the uncle of Gov. Deal’s daughter-in-law, Denise Fallin Deal.
Governor Deal spoke about the ways the state is attempting to reduce its prison population. One of the ways is through classes that help prisoners earn both their high school diplomas and technical skills. But Deal said it is not just those in the prison system who need diplomas and technical skills.
“Let’s move into those of us who haven’t gotten into trouble,” Deal said. “We still have too high an unemployment rate. We have still too many children who are dropping out of school. As I indicated, many of those will actually be the feeder system for our prisons. But many of them have a hard time finding a job if they don’t have a high school diploma.
“Now, we have a lot of organizations that do a lot of good work to try to reclaim those individuals and I applaud every one of them for what they’re doing. But we decided to ask a very simple question. To me it was a very logical question. If we have a high unemployment rate, and we have employers who say we’ve got jobs, but we can’t find enough qualified people to fill them, then couldn’t we fund some training for giving people those skills to take the jobs we already have.?
“So we launched what we call our Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative,” he continued. “Here again, we asked employers, what are your needs for your work force. In fact, this week I’ve already kicked off this year’s round on the High Demand Career Initiative, because the landscape is changing daily in terms of the needs of the employers.
“One of the outgrowths of those questions being asked and answered is that over the last three years, we have identified 11 areas of skills where jobs are currently available and we don’t have enough qualified people to fill them. You have to incentivize to get people to go get the skills they need, so we’ve incentivized it. We are giving, in 11 identified areas now, 100 percent scholarships to individuals who will pursue a degree or certificate in our technical college system. I think that is going to make a big, big difference,” said Deal.
“We are seeing great response to that, too. Those skills range all across the board, from everything from just getting a CDL, a long distance truck driving license. If we have a shortage of those with CDL licenses now, just think what our situation is going to be when we get our Port of Savannah deepened and those large super carrier vessels come in there, and we have even more containers that have to be transferred. It goes to computer programming. It goes to such things as practical nursing. “
Gov. Deal said the most recent addition to the skill areas deals with the growing film industry in Georgia.
“It has been a huge success in Georgia. It had over a $6 billion positive impact last year,” he stated. We’re now the 3rd ranked state in the United States in terms of film production, and it is growing every day. So we asked the film people what they needed. The film industry told us they don’t have enough Georgians to do behind the camera work – the building of sound stages, the electrical, operating the sound equipment itself, etc. So that is one of those areas that is in our High Demand Career Initiative. This is a great collaborative effort between our colleges and universities, and our technical colleges. They are working together on this.”
Another area Gov. Deal spoke on was education reform at the local level. He said the state has increased funding for education every year he has been governor.
“In fact, I am told, this year we are spending about $8,400 per student in state money in the education public arena,” Deal said. “That’s not counting what local Boards of Education are raising in terms of ad valorem taxes to support and pay their share of public education; $8,400 per student is a pretty significant number.
“This year, I’m told that our number is about $21.6 million of state money that is going into the Thomaston-Upson County School District for the school year 2016. We have continued to add to the numbers by doing away with the so-called austerity reductions that were put in place before I came into office. We have whittled away at those significantly, and we feel like we’re pretty close to where we need to be, although we are working now with a committee that’s appointed and working out of the joint House and Senate Education Reform Commission. One of the things they are looking at is how we fund public education.”
Deal related his days as a U. S. Congressman to what is happening in Georgia now in regards to education funding.
“One of the few things that happens in our state that is analogous to Washington, DC, is that in Washington, DC – and I spent 17-plus years there, so I can tell you – you can spend more money this year on a project than you spent last year, and be accused of cutting it,” Deal related. “That’s the way our funding works in Georgia. We’ve continually spent more money, but there are those voices that say, oh, you have cut us. Well, when you have a formula that does not take into account what your revenue stream is; it only calculates what your spending stream is going to be, you couldn’t run a business that way. It’s pretty hard to run anything that way. So I am hopeful that this reform commission is going to come up with some really good recommendations for those kinds of changes.”
One area of education Deal is pushing for is a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in 2016 related to the ‘Opportunity School District.’
“This is a proposal for schools that have been chronically failing,” he said. “What we mean by that is they have received an ‘F’ for at least three consecutive years. Then the state would have the opportunity to come in and intervene in those schools and create a delivery mechanism that would change the direction and dynamic.
“You’re going to hear a lot about this,” he predicted. “Fortunately, your community does not have any of those failing schools. You’ve done a good job of trying to make sure your schools work appropriately.
“There will be those who are going to argue the state is just trying to take over everything. I can assure you that is not the case. But for those who say let the local communities continue to do that, I say fine. And one of the phenomena that is now happening is we’re seeing those systems with those failing schools saying, hey, we better get on the stick. We don’t want the state coming in and taking over any of our schools. We better change the dynamic. We better get those students passing and staying in school. That is perfectly fine with me. It’s kind of like having a paddle in your mama’s closet. It’s much better if you never have to use it, but some things don’t change until you put some pressure on people to make the changes.
“I think it is a good thing,” Deal said in closing. “If we’re ever going to elevate this state to where we need to be, we need to stop having chronically failing schools. And if local Boards of Education and local Superintendents of Schools are unable to do that, they should welcome the state coming in and making a difference, because it will improve everything.”
Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.