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Deal speaks to Republicans
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In one of his first public appearances of the new year, Gov. Nathan Deal addressed area Republicans during a fireside chat Thursday in Dahlonega.

"You're going to get a little bit of a prelude to some of the things I'm going to talk about in my State of the State address," the governor said at a joint meeting of the Dawson and Lumpkin County Republican parties and the Foothills Republican Women at Achasta Grille.

Focusing on what he considered three of the state's most pressing concerns, Deal highlighted educational advancements, issues with health care and plans to improve child welfare.

"We have some very positive and professional teachers and educators in the state of Georgia, and they're working very hard every day to educate children, but we still have a ways to go," he said.

"What we are trying to do is to make sure that we have adequate funds to be able to provide them with the resources that they need to do the best job they can."

According to Deal, $717 million of the state's reserves has been set aside for education since he took office three years ago.

"Even in these hard times, we have given education a place of priority, and as we have seen our revenue begin to uptick over the last couple of years ... we have devoted much of growth of revenue to education," he said. "Next year, you can expect that to increase, I can tell you. That is going to be one of our priorities again next year."

Deal also pledged to correct flaws in the state's child welfare system in light of recent tragedies.

"We've had cases that have been very bad," said Deal, relating the most recent story of a young girl's death. "Many times, those interventions are not successful."

Deal said he wants to spend $27 million over a three-year period to add more than 400 new caseworkers and 87 new supervisors in an effort to reduce the caseload of the state Division of Family and Children's Services.

Deal also stood strong on his decision not to expand Medicaid eligibility and pointed to negative effects the Affordable Care Act has had on the state's medical programs.

With the total state and federal funds for Medicaid and Peachcare in Georgia at about $9.8 billion annually, it "costs each household over $2,700 a year or $231 per month to support our current Medicaid and Peachcare programs," he said.

"Maybe you understand a little better why I did not think it was feasible in these very difficult economic times to expand that Medicaid eligibility."

The 2014 Georgia General Assembly begins on Monday.