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Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 2:47am

Barge Centers Gubernatorial Run On Education, Economic Development

Georgia voters go to the polls in less than two weeks for the state’s earliest primary vote on record. They will select between three Republicans in the race for governor: incumbent Nathan Deal, former Dalton Mayor David Pennington and State School Superintendent John Barge.

Barge is abandoning his own re-election bid to run for governor. He told GPB recently Georgia’s gains on college-entrance exams, national assessments and the graduation rate will suffer if state leaders don’t restore years of cuts in education funding.

“We will begin to see all of the increases that we’ve made over the last several years begin to decline, because you add year after year after year of loss of instructional time, students lose out on the material and the resources. So I just saw the writing on the wall that I didn’t see leadership that had a vision for public education, and I know how incredibly important education is to the future of this state.”

The governor added half a billion dollars back into the state budget for this year and next. But Barge notes schools have lost $10 billion in cuts over the last decade. He says his four years as the state’s top education official will serve him well as governor because schools are key to some of the state’s biggest issues.

“You know, we rank fifth in the nation in poverty. How do you break cycles of poverty? With education. So if we want to get at the issues of poverty in this state, we have to get at it through education. We have to get people to understand the power of education, the value of education, and what it can do. You want to talk about economic development? You can’t have economic development without a quality educational system.”

Much of Barge’s platform revolves around education, including supporting Georgia’s 2010 adoption of the Common Core national education standards. Conservatives have fought to roll them back, saying they’re a federal takeover of education. But Barge says four years into the process, that would be disruptive.

“Teachers are tired of being jerked around by politicians. We need to stay the course. We’re showing tremendous improvement in student achievement on a national level. So I don’t think we need to be backing up and doing something else. We need to refine, improve and keep moving forward.”

And likely primary and general-election voters agree, according to a survey out this week from GOP pollster John McLaughlin—including Republicans.

Barge also echoes other priorities that sound like they could come from either of his opponents’ campaigns: creating more jobs and making the state more attractive for businesses. Barge says the governor touts the state’s recent designation as the top state to do business, but he hasn’t attracted the right kind of jobs.

“Do you know that since he’s been in office, we’ve had a 20 percent increase in the number of full-time, working poor? People who work full time but still fall below the federal poverty line. So, you know, jobs and economic development have to be a priority.”

Census data backs Barge on this point: 100,000 Georgians worked full time but were still considered in poverty in 2010. That jumped by 20,000 by 2012, the most recent data available. Barge says changing the state’s tax structure would be another priority.

“We have to look at the state income tax, the property tax. We have other states that surround us here in the south that either don’t have the personal income tax or don’t have the property tax and they’re all improving and coming out of this recession at a much faster rate than we are. They’re more competitive than we are.”

So far, Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign has ignored our interview invitations. But click here to listen to our conversation with former Dalton Mayor David Pennington.

And tune in to GPB TV May 14 for a live Atlanta Press Club gubernatorial debate. Pennington and Barge have both committed to participate in that event.