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Stacey Abrams: I want to be Georgia’s ‘Public Education Governor’

Stacey Abrams is the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia. I asked Abrams and her Republican opponent to pen pieces on education. You can Brian Kemp’s essay here.

By Stacey Abrams 

My mother was 8-years-old when she dropped out of her segregated elementary school in Mississippi. And she didn’t plan on going back.  

But her neighbor, Miss Gert, had other plans. Miss Gert noticed my mom hanging around hopeless and penniless, gave her some odd jobs and pocket money, and told her every single day that she was too smart to stop now. 

When my mom finally took Miss Gert’s advice and summoned up the courage to go back to school, she expected to repeat third grade—and stick out as the tallest girl in class. To put it mildly: she was not looking forward to that. But after she walked in, she learned that when she dropped out, one of her former teachers had written a note to the principal: “If Carolyn Hall ever comes back to school, move her on to the next grade. She’s smart enough. She can handle it.” 

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An act of genuine care from a neighbor. An act of grace from a public school teacher. That’s all it took. My mother went on to fourth grade and nine years later, walked across the stage as valedictorian of her high school. And a quarter-century later, she watched her daughter walk across the stage as valedictorian of Avondale High in Dekalb County. 

That’s the power of public school and of teachers who care. And that’s why Georgia’s fundamental responsibility is to guarantee access to public education for our children—from cradle to career. 

We have many caring public school teachers and “Miss Gerts” in Georgia, people who are willing to run not just the extra mile, but a marathon for our children. However, we can—and we must—do a lot more to support them. We cannot expect systemic success when our teachers are underpaid and under-resourced, or when they split time being caretakers and counselors for our children as well.  

First, we must commit to providing educators with the resources they need. Our schools endured 16 straight years of austerity cuts, combined with cost-shifting to local districts and educators. The legislature fully funded our public schools just this year—we must maintain full-funding as an unwavering commitment. 

We must also roll back measures like voucher programs that only funnel dollars from public schools to private interests. I am proud to be the only candidate in the race for governor who opposes voucher-like programs that take money away from our public schools to hand over to private schools; I am the only candidate with a proven track record of defending our public schools. 

Second, we must engage our children in a more holistic fashion with wraparound services, including access to mental health support. Promising wraparound programs and initiatives like Marietta Student Life Center are emerging in Georgia: we must implement the projects that work in every region of our state. To fund wraparound services, we should adopt a more comprehensive education formula that directly addresses the correlation between poverty, student social-emotional health, and educational outcomes. 

We should also leverage our state government to take full advantage of federal funding for mental health and early intervention. Wraparound services are necessary to ensuring that children born into poverty have the same path to success as any other child in our state. 

Finally, we must bookend our commitment to public education by improving access to higher learning and early education. To build a truly diverse economy, with a pipeline of skilled labor, technical college in Georgia should be free and students should be able to graduate debt-free from the public institution of their choice. And to foster school readiness for Georgia’s children, we must increase our supply of quality, affordable childcare and protect our pre-K program. I will continue to be a staunch advocate and protector of both private and public early childhood education in Georgia. When universal pre-K was on the chopping block, I fought side-by-side with early education leaders to ensure that our 4-year-olds could get the strongest start possible. 

I’m not running for governor of Georgia to be the “education governor,” I am running to be the “Public Education Governor.” 

Regardless of their parent’s income or zip code, every child in Georgia deserves access to a high-quality, affordable education. By fully committing to our public education system and engaging holistically from cradle to career, we can guarantee that all of our children in Georgia, no matter their needs, have the kinds of teachers and neighbors in their lives that my mother had. When that happens, be assured that Georgia’s bold and ambitious children will not just survive: they will thrive.

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.

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