Monthly Archives: May 2014

Georgia sued over health care for teachers, state employees, retirees

Teachers

The state is overcharging thousands of teachers, state employees and retirees for their health insurance, according to a class-action lawsuit filed against the Georgia Department of Community Health.

A. Lee Parks, one of the lawyers who filed the suit, said the state is overcharging many of the 650,000 members of the State Health Benefit Plan, which has been a political headache for Gov. Nathan Deal and DCH for almost a year.

Parks estimates that plan members have been paying more than $10 million a month in excess health insurance premiums since the agency made changes in January aimed at placating teachers, employees and retirees. Plan members had complained that the state was trying to save $200 million a year in part by charging them much higher out-of-pocket costs for health care.

The DCH changes resulted in lower out-of-pocket costs, but they left some members paying much higher rates while getting the same coverage as members paying much lower premiums.

Those paying the higher premiums still have lower deductibles for their coverage than plan members paying lower premiums, a common practice in private insurance. However, some teachers and retirees argued that they should have been allowed to sign up for the lower-cost plan once the DCH made the coverage fixes in January.

A DCH spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

By James Salzer
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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This Policy Could Help Parents Afford College


There is a way parents can afford to send their kids to college without emptying their savings accounts.

Currently, college is a major expense on par with purchasing a car or saving for a down-payment on a home. College tuition now averages more than $30,000 per year at a private university and $22,000 per year at a public school for out-of-state students. It has gotten so bad parents have begun to wonder if sending their son or daughter to college will have to come at the expense of critical long-term planning such as saving for retirement.

At the same time college costs have spiraled out of control, per-pupil spending in K-12 public schools has reached a record of more than $12,000 per year. Spending is higher than it’s ever been, but student performance is not. The recently released National Assessment of Educational Progress report card for the nation’s 12th grade students revealed that high school seniors today read no better than those of the 1970s. Just 38 percent are proficient in reading; 26 percent are proficient in math.

In states across the country, K-12 public school spending is up but achievement is flat. And if students leave their high schools prepared to go to college, they find themselves faced with costs that are daunting, if not prohibitively expensive.

But what if there were a way to help with the problems that plague both our K-12 system and our higher education system? The answer to the college cost conundrum may lie in part with the pioneering K-12 education savings account program in Arizona.

In 2011 Arizona created the Empowerment Scholarship Account program, establishing education savings accounts for eligible families. Families can choose to withdraw their children from their assigned public school or public charter school and have 90 percent of what the state would have spent on their child in the public system deposited into an ESA. Funds are deposited onto a parent-controlled debit card and can be used to pay for education-related services or products.

Families in Arizona’s ESA program can use their funds to pay for private school tuition, online learning, special education services, curricula, textbooks and a host of other approved expenses. But here’s what makes this approach to school choice particularly innovative: Families can even roll over unused funds into a college savings account every year.

During the 2011-12 school year, approximately 34 percent of families used their ESAs to finance multiple education services and products, customizing their children’s education. And notably, parents rolled over 26 percent of the funds deposited into their ESAs, in anticipation of future education-related expenses.

Cumulative college debt now exceeds $1 trillion—more than cumulative credit card debt—and represents three times what students owed a decade ago. The ability for parents to roll unused K-12 funds into a college savings account has the potential to save tremendous amounts of money for students and their parents when it comes to financing college. It could potentially save a significant amount for taxpayers as well, who would benefit from a reduction in state and federal higher education spending on subsidized student loans and Pell grants.

Taxpayers cannot afford to continue financing an open spigot of federal higher education spending. Particularly when such spending serves only to drive up college costs by enabling universities to raise tuition.

Innovative school choice options such as education savings accounts are enabling families to completely customize their children’s K-12 education. And they have the added benefit of helping families save for college. As more states consider adopting ESAs, the K-12 savings accounts could be one way to alleviate the college cost burden for parents and taxpayers.

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Statewide Election Results

Other Races

We’ll cover the aftermath of Tuesday night for the rest of the week, and I’m taking Friday off for recreation, and so that we can take care of some changes on the backend of the website. Here’s a quick recap.

Governor

Incumbent Republican Nathan Deal carried 72% of GOP Primary voters and every county except Whitfield County, which former Dalton Mayor David Pennington carried.

State School Superintendent

We will have a runoff between Mike Buck with 19.2% and Richard Woods, who earned 16.9%.

Congressional Runoffs

District 1 appears to pit State Senator Buddy Carter, 36.2% against Dr. Bob Johnson with 22.7%. John McCallum came in a strong third place at 20.5% and his endorsement will be sought by the runoff candidates.

District 4 Democratic Congressman Hank Johnson retained his seat against former DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown with a 55-45 victory.

District 10 will host a GOP runoff between first-place finisher Dr. Jody Hice (33.5%) and second-place Mike Collins (33%).

District 11 will see a very spirited contest between Barry Loudermilk, with 36.6% and former Congressman Bob Barr, who held 25.8%.

District 12 goes straight to the General Election, as Rick W. Allen carried 54% to win without a runoff.

State Senate

Senator Don Balfour was retired last night, with former Gwinnett County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau breaking the tape with 38% and former Lawrenceville City Council Member P.K. Martin in second with 33%. Pray for the Balfour family as their son, deployed overseas, has a health issue that has put him in the hospital.

In Senate District 13, an open seat, Greg Kirk narrowly defeated Bryce Johnson for the Republican nomination.

Senate District 16, also an open seat, hosts a runoff between Marty Harbin (25%) and David Studdard (21.6%).

John F. Kennedy is the Republican nominee for Senate District 18, carrying 57% against Spencer Price.

 Senate District 27 incumbent Jack Murphy took 37.5% and lands in a runoff against Michael Williams with 34.5%.

Senator Mike Dugan held his Senate District 30 nomination against longtime State Rep. Bill Hembre by a 55-45 margin and will beat the Democratic nominee in November.

 Senate District 33 provided a shocker, as Senator Steve Thompson, the incumbent Democrat appears to have been defeated by Michael Rhett.

State House Seats

Speaker David Ralston cleaned up his House District Seven with 2/3 of the vote.

Incumbent Sam Moore was shut out of the runoff, which pits Wes Cantrell (38%) against Meagan Bielle (31.79%).

Incumbent RINO Republican Charles Gregory (R-Liberty) lost to Bert Reeves in House District 34.

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2014 Primaries – Low Turnout

This turnout map, from the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office illustrates what happened: very low turnout in DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and other Metro Counties, where Handel led handily, by double-digit margins, plus high turnout in Middle and South Georgia where Kingston absolutely killed it, helps us understand the role turnout played.

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Runoffs loom in Georgia superintendent race

Republican Mike Buck and Democrat Valarie Wilson were in a strong position Tuesday night to earn a spot in the July runoff for Georgia school superintendent.

With more than three-fourths of the state’s counties reporting, Buck, a political neophyte and the chief academic officer at the state Department of Education, was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary, outpacing Richard L. Woods, a longtime educator in Irwin County. Former Fayette County School Board member Mary Kay Bacallao and former Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell were not far behind Woods.

T. Fitz Johnson, a businessman who raised more money than any other candidate in the race, was far back and appeared unlikely to make the runoff, to be held July 22.

Among Democrats, Wilson, a former City Schools of Decatur school board member, was out front, with state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, trailing her. Morgan had a sizable edge over Marion Spencer ‘Denise’ Freeman, a consultant from Wilkes County, and Tarnisha Dent, an instruction coach in Atlanta.

None of the candidates on either side appeared close to clearing the threshold of 50 percent plus one vote required to win the primary outright and avoid a runoff. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes in his or her party’s primary, the top two vote-getters face off in the runoff. The general election will take place in November.

Check with http://www.myajc.com for complete coverage of this and other races.

By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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State superintendent race headed to runoff

Political neophyte and longtime education insider Mike Buck appears to have beaten back a crowded, far better funded field of opponents to earn a spot in the Republican runoff for Georgia school superintendent.

With the vast majority of the state’s counties reporting their vote totals, Buck, the chief academic officer for the state Department of Education, was far ahead of his GOP opponents. Buck, though, did not clear the 50 percent-plus-one-vote threshold needed to avoid the July 22 runoff.

He appears likely to face Richard L. Woods, a longtime educator from Irwin County.

T. Fitz Johnson, a businessman, was far back in the pack, a spectacular flame-out for the candidate who raised the most money in the race.

On the Democratic side, the two candidates who had the most money and the highest name recognition going into Tuesday’s primary — former City Schools of Decatur school board member Valarie Wilson and state Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell — were the top two vote-getters and are likely to face each other in the runoff.

The general election will take place in November.

If either Wilson or Morgan survives a runoff and wins the general election, she would become the first black statewide officeholder since 2011, when Thurbert Baker completed his term as attorney general and Michael Thurmond finished up as labor commissioner.

The national set of academic standards called Common Core was a major point of discussion in the primary, and it’s likely to come up frequently in a runoff.

Some conservatives oppose the standards as a federal intrusion into state control of public education. Supporters see them as an improvement that harmonizes what students across the country are expected to know.

Opposition intensified when the Obama administration used federal grant money to encourage states to adopt the standards.

Buck has been a strong supporter of Common Core; Woods has opposed the standards.

Common Core is less of a political issue for Democrats, as both Wilson and Morgan support the standards.

But that doesn’t mean their political battle in the runoff won’t be pitched.

Morgan has angered many in her party by supporting school choice options like charter schools.

Like conservatives who have long supported charter schools, Morgan has argued that charters are an important alternative for parents whose children attend low-performing traditional public schools.

Unlike most Democrats in the General Assembly — and unlike their backers in public education — Morgan supported the 2012 constitutional amendment that clarified Georgia’s ability to authorize charter schools.

Opponents of the amendment argued that charter schools are not a panacea for problems in public education and that the focus on them detracts from traditional public schools, where the vast majority of children in Georgia are educated.

That amendment passed, however, bolstering Morgan’s claim that school choice options like charter schools are broadly popular even among Democratic voters.

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2014 Voters Guide

2014 Voter's Guide
State Superintendent


** Update ** Editors’ Picks:  We have been getting a large volume of emails asking us to make a recommendation for State School Superintendent.  We decided to make a recommendation in both primaries. (Complete guide is below.)

Nancy Jester (Republican) – The Editors believe that Jester has the strongest skill set to make important and lasting changes at the state Department of Education.  Face it, the job requires an interesting mix of number crunching, analysis, managerial know-how, and political instinct.  To be successful, the next State School Superintendent will need to match those requirements with savviness and communications that have been missing in this office for quite some time.  Nancy Jester fits the bill.  She gets the nod from Georgia School Watch.

Alisha Thomas Morgan (Democrat) – We believe that Morgan deserves to win her primary because she is the only candidate that supports school choice.  The other candidates will have no chance of working well with all the players at the state level.  Morgan crossed her own party to support the charter school amendment.  She is the only democrat that won’t be in the back pocket of the establishment 100% of the time.  She gets our nod for the Democratic primary.


GEORGIA’S 2014 VOTERS GUIDE

Georgia voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick their party’s nominees for statewide offices, state school superintendent, state legislative seats, congressional seats and scores of down-ticket races. It’s the first statewide primary since Georgia Republicans took every statewide office in Georgia in 2010, and Democrats hope to regain a foothold.

Many incumbents from both parties have gone unchallenged, but several high-profile contests will be decided by the vote. If no candidate in the primary earns a majority of votes, the two top vote-getters will square off in a July 22 runoff. Here is a breakdown of some of the top contests to watch:

STATE SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT

State Schools Superintendent John Barge’s bid for governor left open one of the top elected positions in Georgia, and Democrats are eager to seize it for themselves. State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, a top Democratic contender for the seat, has been at odds with fellow Democrats over support for charter schools. Many party leaders support Decatur school board member Valarie Wilson. Also in the race are instructional coach Tarnisha Dent, consultant Denise Freeman, educator Jurita Mays and teacher Rita Robinzine.

On the GOP side, are educational finance and policy expert Nancy Jester and two black candidates, former President of the College Democrats of America Ashley Bell, and former owner of Atlanta’s women’s soccer team Fitz Johnson. Also running are a litany of educators:  college professor  Mary Kay Bacallao, John Barge’s second in command Mike Buck, ex-educator Sharyl Dawes, Quitman County School Superintendent Allen Fort, graduation coach  Kira Willis and Tifton educator Richard Woods.

GOVERNOR

Gov. Nathan Deal, seeking a second term, has traveled the state telling voters his policies are growing the economy and improving schools. He faces a challenge from two longtime GOP rivals. Former Dalton Mayor David Pennington says the incumbent is not cutting taxes and spending aggressively enough. State Schools Superintendent John Barge says he would bring a renewed focus on education into the governor’s office. Both challengers trail in polls and fundraising but hope to force a runoff.

Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, the grandson of a former president, faces no primary challenge and will become his party’s nominee. Ditto for Libertarian Andrew Hunt, a technology executive.

SENATE

Seven Republicans are in the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. U.S. Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston are leaving the House to compete for the open seat, each pledging to be a solid conservative vote. Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has cast herself as an outsider who will shake up Washington. And David Perdue, a former Fortune 500 executive, hopes to capitalize on his business record. Two lesser-known Republicans, Art Gardner and Derrick Grayson, are also in the running.

Michelle Nunn, a nonprofit executive who is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, instantly became the Democratic front-runner when she entered the race last year. She faces challenges from Atlanta psychiatrist Branko Radulovacki, former state Sen. Steen Miles and Todd Robinson, a high school ROTC director.

The nominees will face Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a former Flowery Branch councilwoman, in November.

CONGRESS

There are crowded contests for Congress up and down the ticket. In the Savannah area’s 1st District, six GOP candidates are trying to replace U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston. They include state Sen. Buddy Carter, consultant Darwin Carter, state Rep. Jeff Chapman, surgeon Bob Johnson, physician Earl Martin and investment fund manager John McCallum.

Democrats in that southeast Georgia district also face a heated primary. UPS executive Brian Reese, law enforcement officer Marc Smith and real estate agent Amy Tavio all seek their party’s nod.

In the Atlanta area’s 4th District, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson faces a stiff challenge from former DeKalb County Sheriff Tom Brown. The winner heads to Washington since no Republicans qualified for the race.

The race to replace U.S. Rep. Paul Broun in northeast Georgia’s 10th District is crowded. Seven Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination: Mike Collins, a trucking company executive; lawyer Gary Gerrard; Jody Hice, a pastor and conservative radio talk show host; state Rep. Donna Sheldon; Stephen Simpson, a retired U.S. Army officer; tea party candidate Brian Slowinski; and Mitchell Swan, an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. Awaiting them is Democrat Ken Dious, a lawyer.

The 11th District, which covers parts of northwest Atlanta, features a six-way GOP race to replace U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr is seen as the front-runner. His challengers include businessman Allan Levene, state Rep. Ed Lindsey; former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk; retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Mrozinski and entrepreneuer Tricia Pridemore. No Democrats qualified to get on the ballot.

U.S. Rep. John Barrow of the 12th District is one of the most targeted Democrats in the House. This cycle, five candidates are seeking the GOP nomination for the right to unseat him: Rick Allen, who owns a construction company; state Rep. Delvis Dutton; John Stone, a former congressional aide; Diane Vann, a nurse; and Eugene Yu, an entrepreneur.

LEGISLATURE

Dozens of state legislators face an intraparty challenge. House Speaker David Ralston’s bid for another term has attracted a bid by wrestling coach Sam Snider. State Rep. Charles Gregory, a libertarian-minded lawmaker, faces an establishment-backed challenge from attorney Bert Reeves. And state Sen. Don Balfour, cleared of state fraud charges, faces challenges from ex-Gwinnett Commissioner Mike Beaudreau and former Lawrenceville Councilman P.K. Martin.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

In Clayton County:

Two incumbents are being challenged on the Clayton County Commission, a place where incumbents have not fared well recently. District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton faces Rosa Barbee, Joyce Baul and Richard Reagan in the Democratic primary. District 4 Commissioner Michael Edmondson, a Democrat, is being challenged by Larry Bussey and Robbie Moore.

In Cobb County:

Cobb County will get at least one new commissioner, and an incumbent is facing two challengers in the Republican primary. District 3 Commissioner JoAnne Birrell is taking on fellow Republicans Michael Opitz and Joseph Pond. In District 1, Helen Goreham has decided not to seek re-election. Republicans Angela Barner, Bill Byrne, Glenn Melson, Scott Tucker and Bob Weatherford are vying for the seat.

In DeKalb County:

The biggest race with countywide attention is the contest to replace former Sheriff Tom Brown, who resigned to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson. On the ballot for sheriff are former DeKalb CEO Vernon Jones, who is running on his administrative experience. He faces five other candidates who’ve been sworn law officers: interim Sheriff Jeff Mann, Melvin Mitchell, Melody Maddox, LaSalle Smith and Tony Hughes.

In Fayette County:

Fayette Commission Chairman Steve Brown, who holds the District 3 seat, has drawn two challengers in the Republican primary, Don Haddix and Harold Logsdon.

In Fulton County:

Redistricting and retirements are forcing what could be the most significant turnover in a generation on the Fulton County Commission. All seven Fulton County Commission seats are up, and each incumbent is facing a primary challenge. At least one longtime commissioner won’t survive the primary as a redistricting plan pits Democrats Emma Darnell and Bill Edwards. Another key race is between Fulton Chairman John Eaves and Robb Pitts, a former Atlanta city councilman.

In Gwinnett County:

Only one Gwinnett commissioner has drawn a primary challenger. District 4 Commissioner John Heard is being challenged by Alfie Meek in the Republican primary.

In Henry County:

There is potential for change in Henry County, as Republican challengers are seeking two County Commission seats. District 3 Commissioner Gary Barham is being challenged by Horace Brannan and Bill Toney. District 4 Commissioner Reid Bowman is being challenged by Blake Prince.

LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS

School board races in metro Atlanta counties have drawn much interest, with several candidates competing in Tuesday’s primary election.

Cobb County:

Three of the seven seats are on the ballot.

  • The Post 2 seat has four contenders. Incumbent Tim Stultz, a Republican, has two Republican challengers: Jeff Abel, who has two daughters in the Cobb school system; and Susan Thayer, a former principal at Pebblebrook High School and former director of leadership management for the Cobb school system. Democrat Kenya Pierre, a Spelman College graduate with a law degree from the University of Cincinnati, will run against the winner in the fall.
  • For the Post 4 seat being vacated by board Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci, two Republicans, David Chastain and Bill Scott are competing. There are no Democrats running.
  • Two Republicans are also competing for Post 6: incumbent Scott Sweeney and Kevin Nicholas, who both have children in Cobb County schools. There is no Democrat running.

 

DeKalb County:

All seven seats that survived a redistricting by the state Legislature are up for election. It’s a nonpartisan race, so this serves as the general election.

  • In District 1, which covers Dunwoody and Brookhaven, Stan Jester is running unopposed. He is the husband of Nancy Jester, who dug up $54 million dollars in deceptive budgeting practices which wore away the cash reserves of the DeKalb Schools.
  • In District 2, from Dunwoody/Brookhaven to the Emory University area, Don McChesney was a teacher for 34 years and is seeking the seat he held until the election two years ago. Marshall Orson, incumbent and Fernbank advocate, has been implicated in numerous questionable dealings over the years.
  • In District 3, from Avondale Estates to the southwest corner of the county, there are five candidates: Atticus LeBlanc, 34, a Yale graduate and charter school advocate who owns real estate and construction businesses; and Jerrie D. Bason, a federal auditor, minister and substitute teacher with two grown sons; Michael A. Erwin, 43, the incumbent appointed by Deal and voted against the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, is an assistant professor at Georgia Gwinnett College and a Navy veteran; Jarrod Jordan, 33, a Clark Atlanta University graduate who runs Vanguard Leadership Group, a nonprofit;  and Willie R. Mosley Jr., an Army veteran and former candidate for the school board and County Commission.
  • In District 4, from near Buford Highway south to Stone Mountain, the four candidates include two incumbents, due to restructuring of districts the Legislature did. Those two are Karen Carter, 51, a Deal appointee and chairwoman of the business and social sciences department at Georgia Perimeter College’s Clarkston campus; and Jim McMahan, 48, a mortgage broker. Challenging them are John Oselette, 49, financial expert and owner of a television production company; and Ella “Coach” Smith, 58, a grandmother and special education teacher in Fulton County.
  • In District 5, the five candidates are: Pia “Chaz Afzal” Bhatti, 26, a life insurance agent; Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, 54, who was removed from the school board by Deal last year; R. Alexander Fitzhugh, 42, an Army veteran and entrepreneur in media production and publishing; Thad Mayfield, 58, the incumbent appointed by Deal, who works in business development and management; and Vickie B. Turner, 58, the headmaster of The Augustine Preparatory Academy of Atlanta.
  • In District 6,Melvin Johnson, the incumbent, a retired DeKalb County School District deputy superintendent, is being challenged by Bridgemon Bolger, 28, president of the DeKalb County Young Democrats.
  • In District 7, the three candidates are Kim Ault; Lee V. Dukes, 61, a retired engineer from AT&T and longtime DeKalb substitute teacher; and incumbent Joyce Morley, a consultant with advanced degrees in education administration and counseling who was appointed by Deal.

 

Fulton County:

Three newcomers and four incumbents are vying for four seats as the state’s fourth-largest district as it continues its transition to a charter system.

  • In District 2, incumbent Katie Reeves is unopposed.
  • In District 5, incumbent Linda McCain is unopposed.
  • In District 6, incumbent Catherine Maddox, a retired nurse, is competing against two newcomers: DeAndre Pickett, a Liberty College graduate; and Joel Joseph, who has master’s degrees in public administration and teaching.
  • District 7 incumbent Julia Bernath, a parent of three Fulton County public school graduates, is going up against business and marketing manager Kathleen Wittschen, who has two children in Fulton County schools.

 

Gwinnett County:

  • Three Republicans are vying for the District 2 seat. Dan Seckinger, 56, who’s been on the board since 1995, is facing challenges by Leon Hobbs, 68, a former school superintendent in Alabama; and Ileana McCaigue.
  • In District 4, Zachary Rushing is on the Democratic primary ballot, and incumbent Bob McClure is on the Republican ballot.

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