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Posted: 1:05 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014

Jason Carter: Deal's education budget is 'shell game' 

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Jason Carter
Jason Getz / AJC
Jason Carter State Senator, District 42 Atlanta Age: 38 Carter continues to follow in the political footsteps of his grandfather, President Jimmy Carter, first as state senator, now as a candidate for Georgia governor. Carter, also a Democrat, often found himself at odds with Senate leaders during the 2013 legislative session, but points to achievements, such as changes to the HOPE grant, that he believes will make Georgia a better place. Photo by Jason Getz

By Maureen Downey

Education is becoming a key battleground in the 2014 governor's race.

Gov. Nathan Deal devoted a great deal of his State of the State speech today to education and the additional funding he plans to give schools this year.

Here is the response from challenger Jason Carter, a Democratic state senator:

In the Democratic response to Georgia's annual state of the state address, Sen. Jason Carter said that the single biggest failure of Georgia's current leadership - and the biggest drain on the state's economy - is the dismantling of the state's education system. Carter, who is running to replace Deal as governor, said he believes in creating a strong climate for business, but that is not possible with policies that leave the middle class and small business behind.

 "Governor Deal says Georgia today is, 'at the pinnacle.' He is bursting with pride that a single magazine rated Georgia the best place to do business," Carter said. "You can't tell that to the 363,000 Georgians still looking for work. Our state ranks 40th in the nation in its unemployment rate. Georgia is not at its pinnacle."

 Carter said that, adjusted for inflation, the average Georgia family makes in effect $6,000 less than the average family did 10 years ago. In 2002, Georgia ranked 15th in median household income. Today, the state ranks 33rd in the nation.

 "That's a real pay cut and it means that middle-class income has dropped twice as fast in Georgia as it has in the rest of the country. You didn't hear that in the Governor's address," Carter said. "I believe in creating a strong climate for business. But you can't have a strong economy if you leave the middle class and small business behind."

 Carter called for a closer look at the critical issues facing our state, such as why 27 percent of Georgia's children are living in poverty - one out of every four kids.

 "Georgia has the sixth worst poverty rate in the country. And we have a child welfare system that has shamefully failed to protect the children in its care. That's no victory. It's a moral failure that has been ignored for too long," Carter said.

 Carter said the failure to prioritize education spending is among the primary reasons for Georgia's lackluster economy. He said the U.S. Department of Education has ranked the state fourth worst in high school graduation rates and added that almost three-quarters of our school districts have stopped teaching students the full 180 days per year.

Since 2008 Georgia's public schools have lost more than 9,000 classroom teachers, while the number of students has grown. As a result, 95 percent of school districts have had to increase class sizes and local property taxes have increased in 38 school districts statewide.

 Carter proposed a new approach to prioritizing education to grow the state's economy by creating a separate education budget. Under Carter's plan, every year the Legislature would be forced to consider the state budget in two parts. Once the education budget has been approved, state elected officials would then consider the funding of the rest of the government.

 "Today, our education budget is a shell game. A separate education fund will make our investment in education the state's top priority. To me, setting out clear priorities for how our money gets spent - and living by them - is what it means to be a fiscal conservative," said Carter.

 "I know we can do better but we have to face the facts and focus on the future. The first step to solving any problem is to tell the truth about what's going on. And here's the truth: our education budget is broken. A separate education fund will make sure that our investment in education is the state's top priority."

Maureen Downey

About Maureen Downey

Maureen Downey is a longtime reporter for the AJC where she has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy for 12 years.

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