Deal gives lawmakers more time to review education overhaul

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ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Nathan Deal urged state lawmakers to spend this year's legislative session studying sweeping changes to Georgia's public education system, temporarily backing away from contentious proposals to tie teacher pay to student performance and overhaul the state's method for funding schools.

Both efforts are at the core of a report released by Deal's appointed commission studying all aspects of Georgia's education system. The report drew opposition from teachers' organizations and top lawmakers.

Deal said he will delay legislation until the 2017 session, meaning the changes wouldn't go into effect until July of that year if approved by lawmakers. Instead, he promised a $300 million boost to education spending, money he wants school districts to use for a 3 percent teacher pay raise. He also plans to appoint an advisory panel of teachers to discuss future changes to education.

"The education of Georgia's children is too important to be held hostage to a status quo that may feel comfortable to certain adults but is a disservice to our students," Deal said in his State of the State address on Wednesday. "The method whereby we educate our children must be as modern and adaptive to the changes in the world as our cellphones, our computers, our televisions and our automobiles."

Deal, a Republican in the second year of his final four-year term, appointed the education commission last year. Its' recommendations would overhaul Georgia's existing formula for doling out money to schools and allocate money per student, factoring in poverty, grade level and enrollment in gifted or special education classes.

The group also advocated for more flexibility on testing, more support to charter schools and letting students advance grade levels when ready.

Deal said he does plan to use this year's budget process to enact some of the group's recommendations, including $26.2 million for pre-K teachers' salary increases and an additional $7.9 million for a 3 percent merit pay increase.

"I think the trouble that has been occurring now is that very few people have actually read the details of the report's recommendations," Deal told reporters after his speech. "So I want teachers to have a chance to do that and do so with an open mind and see that it is not something designed to punish them but is in fact designed to help them."

House Speaker David Ralston, who has spoken against the commission's proposal moving K-8 teachers to a pay scale based on student performance, called the governor's delay "wise."

"I think education is too important for us to have a debate that could become contentious," Ralston said. "I think the steps he's taken are designed to avoid that and I applaud him for that."

The recommendation on teacher pay also struck a nerve with educator groups. They argue that linking pay to student performance on standardized tests and other measures is unfair and won't be an incentive to teachers.

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said the slowdown will let teachers examine the issues and weigh in.

"The bad news is still wanting it; the good news is he's slowing down," Chapman said.

In the Democrats' response, state Sen. Vincent Fort said changes to funding and teacher pay could cause more harm to schools still recovering from budget cuts during the Great Recession.

"With the Republican leadership failing to hold up its end of the bargain, less than half of our students demonstrate proficiency in reading, social studies, science, and math," Fort said. "Our kids' SAT scores are among the worst in the nation. And why should this surprise us when, adjusted for inflation, teachers are making less money now than they were a decade ago, leading to high turnover."


This story has been corrected to say that if lawmakers approve changes to the state's education funding formula and teacher pay during the next session, the changes would go into effect July 2017, not July 2018. Also, Deal's proposal increases K-12 education spending by $300 million, not $300,000 for teacher raises.

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