The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor both say if elected, they’d make education a top priority. Both Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes spoke to a teachers’ group this week. The candidates answered questions in front of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators Thursday.
Both Barnes and Deal made sure to tell members of PAGE that they feel their pain regarding budget cuts, larger class sizes, longer work days and furloughs.
Vicki Hammond is a fourth-grade teacher in northeast Georgia’s Oconee County. She says the candidates’ concern for their plight came off as genuine.
“It’s nice to know that they are aware of some of the things that we’re experiencing as teachers and I think as a classroom teacher sometimes I don’t think that anybody is aware of what’s going on in my classroom.”
Hammond says she’s still undecided on who she’d support.
Barnes told educators that millions of dollars can be funneled to education by tightening Georgia’s tax collection system.
Deal agrees, but warns removing too many business tax breaks might keep the state’s economy from growing.
Deal also continued to criticize Barnes' plan to raise more than $1 billion for education, saying the former governor wants to increase taxes. Deal says a focus on charter schools and career academies is a plan for the short term.
"I think those are the kind of approaches we can do without a huge infusion of new dollars."
Deal also reiterated his plan to survive the funding crunch by giving schools more flexibility to use current dollars.
"I do think we can make our dollars go further and our plan concentrates on that."
Barnes challenged Deal's assertion that the former congressman has never supported vouchers, which give taxpayer dollars to parents to send their children to private schools. Deal says vouchers deserve debate by lawmakers but he's not come out in favor of them during the campaign, while Barnes is squarely against them.
Barnes took a shot at Georgia's General Assembly, saying $50 million in public funds diverted to a voucher system for private schools needs to be return to the public school level.
"There is an anti-public school sentiment in the General Assembly" said Barnes. "You have to tell the General Assembly, "I'm not signing a voucher bill, you're not going to divert public money. I'm not going to allow you to starve the public school system."