Days after his signature education initiative failed, Gov. Nathan Deal said he is exploring alternatives to give students in struggling schools more options and that the burden is now on local school districts, many which fiercely opposed the proposal, to pick up the slack.
“It was not my failure. The failure of this passing is impacting on those 68,000 children who are still stuck in chronically failing schools,” Deal said Thursday. “We’re going to see what the local jurisdictions are willing to do about that. The ball is totally in their court right now.”
He added: “We are expecting them to do better. The people of this state expect them to do better.”
The polls predicted a defeat for the Opportunity School District for months, and even Deal had floated the prospect of a Plan B. Still, the measure's lopsided failure in the polls – it went down 60-40 with solid opposition from Republicans and Democrats – is a rebuke to his second-term initiative.
Deal’s allies cast the defeat as a byproduct of more than $5 million in spending from education groups and other opponents who see this as a national proxy battle. The critics saw it as a saw it as a government overreach that gives Deal’s office too much power.
On Thursday, Deal pointed to Dooly County, home to two of the dozens of schools on Deal's failing list. Dooly residents voted in favor of the plan, even as it failed in many other counties.
The governor has already said he wants local school boards to start helping more children attending low-performing schools switch to the school of their choice, and his staffers said he's ready to restrict local school board flexibility in how they use state money for teacher pay raises.
But when asked on Thursday for specifics about his next step, Deal was tight-lipped.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We’re looking.”