Deal: A new failing schools plan is my main priority

Gov. Nathan Deal plans to put all his political might behind a measure that would give the state more power to intervene in persistently struggling schools, saying in an interview Friday that he is unlikely to push a more sweeping plan to overhaul the school funding formula until it passes.

Saying he was undeterred by the November defeat of his Opportunity School District initiative, Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is working with lawmakers on a plan that would give the state more power to let students who attend the 153 schools on the state’s failing list transfer.

“Sometimes it takes more than one bite of the apple to get it right,” he said of the failure of his constitutional amendment, which would have empowered his office to take control of failing schools. “Sometimes there are literally more ways than one to skin the cat, and we’re still trying to skin the cat of chronically failing schools.”

That means that an ambitious, and politically perilous, plan to overhaul the school funding formula will probably be delayed another year. Deal made rewriting the 30-year-old formula the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, but shifted to the failing schools initiative shortly after his victory.

“It’s not necessarily on the back-burner, but the first and most important thing is to deal with chronically failing schools,” he said of a funding overhaul. “And if we do not deal with chronically failing schools, rewriting the formula does not do anything to solve the biggest problem we have in public education.”

It was Deal's first extensive comments about his education initiatives since the November vote.

Deal said the specifics of the legislative package are being worked out, but several people briefed on a House measure said it would involve a six-year process that would offer the state’s most troubled schools more administrative support and additional resources. If performance doesn’t improve, students could be offered vouchers or state help in switching to other schools.

The governor said he wants the measure that emerges from the Legislature this year to focus on elementary schools – the bulk of the schools on the state’s failing list – and give the state more ways to hold administrators accountable.

“It goes to fiscal responsibility. You need to be sure that the schools receiving these funds are using them appropriately, and many of them have had difficulties with audits and complying with deadlines for reporting,” he said.

Deal is likely to have key legislative support for his initiative. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle both endorsed the idea of developing a new failing schools plan this week.

And other supporters said it would be designed to avoid the legal questions raised by a 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that concluded that only county and area school boards have the explicit authority to create and maintain charter schools.

Deal, for his part, said he didn’t want the measure that emerges this year to be seen as a backup plan.

“There is no Plan B. Plan A has always been to help fix chronically failing schools,” he said. “And that remains my focus this year.”

Read more about Deal's education agenda:

Georgia governor faces another perilous education fight in 2017

A new plan is in the works after failing schools plan's defeat