Education takes spotlight Friday in Atlanta mayor’s race

Atlanta mayoral candidates Keisha Lance Bottoms, left, and Mary Norwood at Friday's education conversation.
Atlanta mayoral candidates Keisha Lance Bottoms, left, and Mary Norwood at Friday's education conversation.

Atlanta mayoral candidates Keisha Lance Bottoms and Mary Norwood touted their plans Friday to improve student success during an event just days before the runoff election.

The candidates are participating in a discussion that features a panel of educational leaders including Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen and Morehouse College interim president Harold Martin, Jr.

APS has laid out a 15-point public policy agenda that calls for the city to release school property deeds that the school district sued to obtain. Both Bottoms and Norwood recently pledged that they would turn over the disputed deeds to the school district.

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The school district also wants policymakers to include APS in annexation plans. A city committee this week paved the way to do that when it agreed APS could expand with the city when it annexes area in DeKalb County that includes Emory University.

Other city-related priorities for APS include funding an initiative that guarantees early childhood education for all Atlanta children, coordinating financial decisions, streamlining the construction and renovation permit process, building sidewalks in school zones, tearing down or repurpose abandoned buildings near schools, developing paid internships for high school students, and ensuring “closer collaboration” between the city and APS police forces.

Norwood and Bottoms both said they would support a sales tax or other funding measures to support early childhood programs for children in the city.

They differed, however, on if they would commit to always supporting inclusion of APS when the city annexes an area. Norwood said she would “unequivocally” support allowing Atlanta schools to grow with the city limits.

“I just don’t think we can have two different classifications of people in the city,” Norwood said.

Bottoms said each proposed annexation needs to be reviewed separately. She said a top issue for some annexed communities is not wanting to be a part of Atlanta schools.

“While APS is making tremendous strides, and I applaud those strides, we are not there in each and every community,” she said.

Carstarphen took issue with Bottoms’ plan to appoint an education director in her city administration, saying it could be seen as another layer of bureaucracy or even as a way to exert mayoral control.

But Bottoms said the person would help ensure a high-functioning relationship with the school district.

The city of Atlanta has about 27,400 children under age 5, and 12 of every 20 of those youngsters are economically disadvantaged, according to information provided by the nonprofit Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students, which co-hosted the event at The Gathering Spot.

The agency aims to promote literacy and make sure all children in the state are prepared when they enter kindergarten.

The event was promoted as the first mayoral candidate event focused solely on education.