I have asked the two major gubernatorial candidates to talk to Georgia public school teachers about their respective education platforms. This week the floor belongs to Jason Carter, the Democratic challenger. Next week, it will be Republican Gov. Nathan Deal's turn.
The teacher's vote could be the difference in a very tight race as to who will occupy the governor's office for the next four years. That is one point on which I think both Gov. Deal and Sen. Carter will agree.
Jason Carter, 39, was elected to fill out a vacant seat in the Georgia State Senate in 2010 and has since won two more terms. His wife is a public school teacher and both his sons attend public schools. Unlike many of his legislative colleagues, Carter has skin in the game.
Carter says public education sadly lacks a vision in Georgia. "We lurch from one idea to another and from one trend to another," he says. "We have so many different approaches regarding funding, evaluation, curriculum and the like that we make it almost impossible to teach and learn in the classroom. The inconsistency can suck the creativity out of teachers."
Carter charges that Deal has underfunded K-12 education by more than a billion dollars since he took office.
"Money has been taken out of the education budget and spent on other things," Carter says. "As a result, more than two-thirds of Georgia's school districts have not taught the standard 180 days since Mr. Deal was elected; more than 95 percent of the school districts have had to increase class sizes and the state has lost more than 9,000 classroom teachers. That is an outrage."
The Democratic nominee pledges that, if elected, he will propose a separate education budget, which legislators would be required to vote on before taking up the general budget.
How he would get such a change through a Republican-dominated Legislature?
"First, I believe there is bipartisan support for getting education funding right," he says. "Also, by having the education budget separate, legislators are going to be more accountable for their views. They will make clear by their vote where they stand on support for public education."
Why did he vote three times for Deal's education budget but then vote against the measure this session that provided an additional $535 million to public education? Carter says after taking a tour of schools around the state and seeing what previous budget cuts had done to those schools - particularly in poor districts - he could no longer support the current budgeting process. Of course, Republicans are having a field day with that explanation.
On Common Core Standards, Carter says that we have to be able to compare ourselves against other states but currently the issue has become a "political distraction" because of a lack of leadership. He voted against the unsuccessful effort to ditch Common Core in the last session.
He questions the latest teacher evaluation system, saying the program doesn't have buy-in from teachers.
"This is another case of politicians and bureaucrats not listening to the classroom teacher," he says. "Nathan Deal has lost the locker room on this one."
"Charter schools can be valuable for innovation and trying out new things," the senator says. "The key is to make sure charter schools are fully integrated into the public school system and not pitted against them."
Carter has pledged to restore funding to the state's National Board Certified teachers. This one is up-close and personal with me. My son-in-law, Dr. Ted Wansley, was one of the first National Board Certified teachers in Georgia. The state promised a 10 percent stipend to teachers who achieved one of the highest recognitions in the profession - and then rescinded the pledge.
"Here again the state has broken a promise they made to teachers," Carter says. "No wonder teachers are so demoralized."
As we were winding up, I asked Carter to tell teachers why they should vote for him.
"I want teachers to know that education will be my top priority. I will focus on recruiting, retaining and supporting teachers. And I will listen to them. I want to assure Georgia's teachers that they are not the problem. The problem is that we have no clear vision for public education. It is this lack of vision and lack of leadership that hurts our students, teachers and our state. I intend to change that."
Next week: Deal talks about his education initiatives.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or www.facebook.com/dickyarb.