ATLANTA | A forum with Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic challenger Jason Carter turned contentious Monday over public education as each attacked the other’s record and questioned his opponent’s plans to improve it.
It was the first time both candidates have shared a stage ahead of the Nov. 4 election as they battled over one of the major issues in this year’s governor’s race before an audience of educators.
Deal argued he has shielded public education from cuts that other parts of state government had to deal with after the past recession, saying he increased education spending every year he’s been in office. Meanwhile Carter, a state senator, described what he called “the worst contraction of public education in our state” in years.
“Every educator that I know and most of the parents I know would be shocked to hear that they have been spared cuts,” Carter said. “To make excuses about what we’ve tried and what we’ve done and to say we have increased the amount every year just doesn’t deal with … what teachers and parents are seeing in their schools.”
The race has largely shaped up to be a debate on the economy and education, with Deal arguing that Georgia is moving in the right direction on job creation and education spending after a few tough years. He said Carter hasn’t explained how he would pay for an increase in public education funds.
“The question that still remains is, are you simply going to make promises?” Deal said. “Without ways to implement those promises that will never relieve teachers of the burdens they currently bear.”
Carter detailed his proposal to require state lawmakers to set an education budget first before setting the rest of the governor’s spending priorities.
Deal said that plan hasn’t worked in other states and questioned why Carter voted for his first three budgets and not his most recent with a large increase in funding for public education.
After the debate, Carter said he had voted for the first three budgets in a spirit of bipartisanship since they generally pass unanimously but decided he couldn’t do it anymore after touring the state and hearing from educators and parents about growing class sizes, teacher furloughs and reduced school days.
Carter also argued the loss in state education funding has forced counties to raise local property taxes to make up the difference.
“We’ve watched them cut days and we’ve watched them raise taxes. And that’s Gov. Deal’s plan for funding education,” Carter said.
Deal said Georgia was hit harder by the recession than “virtually any other state” and touted his job creation focus for allowing the state to increase education spending as much as it did. He added his budgets have averaged about 54 percent of all spending on education while noting that funding went down when Carter’s grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter, was Georgia’s governor.
The forum was hosted by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the largest teachers’ group in the state. Libertarian candidate Andrew Hunt, the former CEO of an Atlanta nanotechnology firm, wasn’t invited.
By Christina A. Cassidy