Weather prevented Governor Nathan Deal from attending the Georgia School Boards Association at its Savannah conference this weekend. This is the speech he would have given.
By Nathan Deal
Doubtless many of you enjoy your jobs and see a sense of purpose in them, as I do with mine. And much like my own, you get your greatest publicity in your communities when something is perceived as having gone wrong. In those moments, you have concerned parents and invasive news outlets on your doorsteps wanting to know every detail.
Unfortunately, the past several years were difficult on all of us, and our local school boards were not exempt. During the Great Recession, state revenues dropped 19 percent, leaving each of us with fewer dollars to distribute. Yet despite difficulties, we have continued to spend around half of our state budget on education each year. To this purpose, we picked the low-hanging fruit early, increased efficiencies, consolidated agencies and made difficult cuts, all while doing our absolute best to hold the line on K-12 education spending.
But there’s good news. Forty-four out of the past 47 months have experienced year-over-year revenue growth, which over time has allowed us to devote more funds to the essential functions of state government, with education foremost among them. In fact, this trend let us increase K-12 funding this year by over half a billion dollars—the largest such increase in seven years!
When we announced the additional funding, we noted that it should as much as possible be used on eliminating furlough days, restoring instructional days and increasing teacher salaries. Well, I have a document that tells me exactly what each district has done with their allotments, and I want to commend the many here who have used this opportunity to get students and teachers back into the classroom where they belong, earning a salary that they deserve.
I hope that you have had parents and media knocking on your doors thanking you for that!
Now, as we see revenue coming back, I want to encourage you to resist falling back into old patterns and to be willing to embrace the innovations that will carry Georgia classrooms into the 21st century.
In partnership with the Georgia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, we have allotted up to $39 million in grant money for our “Connections for Classrooms” initiative. We hope through this process to make high speed internet and digital learning available to every public school classroom in the state. Faster internet will require appropriate infrastructure to receive, and I encourage all of you to apply by the August deadline. With the capabilities of today’s technology, certainly we must bring our students up to speed!
To those of you here, I would like to commend you for getting in touch with my administration at the start of my first term and presenting us with a well thought-out Vision document. Many of the items that matter to you matter to us, and I think you will be pleased to hear about some of other things we have done over the past few years.
We’ve put a focus on early learning, restoring our nationally recognized pre-K program to a full calendar year and taking steps to get children reading on grade level by the end of third grade. We’re utilizing new technologies and learning techniques, such as video recordings that make some of our state’s best teachers available to classrooms around the state. And we’re keeping our standards rigorous while making improvements, including a new evaluation system for teachers that measures progress more appropriately. My administration appreciates your input as we continue to strengthen education, our workforce and our economy.
I mentioned during my State of the State address this year that 7 out of every 10 Department of Corrections inmates do not even hold a high school diploma or GED. Well, earlier this year we announced that Forsyth County school superintendent Buster Evans will lead up an effort to raise the education levels of our inmates prior to release. In this way, they can better attain marketable skills that lead to jobs and productive living as they reenter society.
It’s important, however, that we prevent this issue rather than react to it. This means raising high school graduation rates. We looked at our counties that are sending the most youth into our juvenile justice system. When we accounted for outliers, we noticed that counties with higher dropout rates also have higher admission rates for youth detention centers. And the 7 out of 10 stat that I referenced earlier implies we have 38,000 Georgians who walked out of our school doors and into our prisons. That must stop. Our young people don’t need a prison education; they need an education to stay out of prison!
To that point, I would like to highlight that last year nearly 700 young Georgians stayed out of detention centers and on track thanks to our school-based probation officers. They provide more frequent contact and keep better tabs on the performance of those under their supervision than would be possible under normal circumstances. Their interactions certainly involve formal meetings but also daily informal contact, which can be equally as important in setting a young person on the right path. It is my hope that these resource officers will be used more widely in the future.
We know that your actions as boards can shift the foundation of student learning — for good or for bad. Governance matters. Schools, teachers and students need support to not only get students across the finish line, but to avoid costly remediation later.
Therefore, work together effectively in spite of differences for the growth and opportunity of all of our state’s young learners. And then, regardless of whether your positive outcomes are recognized publicly by others, you will have thousands of silent thank yous from degree-wielding students and their parents … and one loud one from me.