Gov. Nathan Deal said he's exploring the idea of paying extra for top-notch teachers willing to work with some of the state's youngest students.
Deal told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview published Sunday that he's still working on the specifics of his plan but expects the recommendations to mesh with the work of a committee investigating whether the state school funding formula needs an overhaul.
"I think the salary differential will be aimed at teachers who teach reading and are certified and qualified to teach reading," he told the newspaper.
The governor's education agenda will focus on pre-kindergarten through third grade, and the goal is to have all students reading at grade level by the third grade, he said.
"If we don't start on the front end, we're going to spend a whole lot more money trying to remediate students who don't have those third-grade skills—remediating them all through the rest of the process and having graduation coaches as we try to drag them across the finish line in order to get a diploma," he said.
Some researchers have concluded that students who aren't reading at grade level by third grade are at a greater risk of dropping out of high school.
Tim Callahan of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators said he's uncertain how the idea of a pay differential would play out among his members. He said reading teachers could like the proposal, but others could object. And he said it could be hard to administer.
"In the early grades, every teacher is a reading teacher, regardless of subject area," Callahan said.
Other educators said Deal is on the right track.
"Our research is pretty consistent that one of the most important benchmarks in that birth-to-work pipeline is reading on grade level at the third grade," said Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership with Excellence in Education.
Deal said his education agenda may not have a quick payoff, but he said it will lead to long-term improvements.
"It may not show up in terms of graduation rates during my term in office, but it will show up in the graduation rates of the governors who follow me," he told the newspaper. "That is sometimes a view that we don't often take, but it's a view I take."