Gov. Nathan Deal delivered his 2017 State of the State address Wednesday morning to the Georgia General Assembly. With the exception of one jarringly discordant note (more on that shortly), the governor’s agenda was in tune with what should be some of the state’s top priorities.
As education is obviously a critical issue, here and everywhere else, Deal proposed a 2 percent raise for all authorized state teachers, on top of the 3 percent merit raise already in the current budget. But with that salary increase, Deal noted, should come more scrutiny on performance. The message was unmistakable:
“As our educators accentuate the positives in our children and eliminate the negatives, we should latch onto the affirmative and reward them for that invaluable service … we should also seek to eliminate whatever systemic negatives are preventing students and teachers alike from realizing their full potential.”
In other words, rewarding good educators and removing obstacles to getting rid of bad ones. There can be no credible objection to that.
Another highlight is Deal’s military focus — especially mental health services for women vets who experienced in-service sexual trauma, and for veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries.
As expected, the governor called for substantial raises — up to 20 percent — for officers of the GBI and Highway Patrol, among other state law enforcement personnel. And, also as expected, he called for comparably high raises for Division of Family and Children Services, where the burnout — and, consequently, turnover — rate has crippled an agency dedicated to protecting the state’s most vulnerable population.
Deal also called for $50 million for cybersecurity technology, training and research, the timing and importance of which are all too clear.
The governor is obviously still seething over the voters’ resounding rejection of his Opportunity School District plan. He remains determined, as he should be, to address the problem of chronically underperforming schools.
“It should be abundantly clear to everyone, including those in the education community who so staunchly support the status quo, [emphasis ours] that this is unacceptable. If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year.”
The school takeover legislation was overwhelmingly rejected not because Georgia voters, including the relatively small percentage of them who are public school educators, “staunchly support” a status quo of failure. To suggest otherwise is a cheap shot unworthy of Deal and his record. It was rejected because it was a fatally flawed proposal that touted accountability and specified virtually none. It implicitly guaranteed future success by unnamed and unspecified state-appointed replacements at doing what local educators were unable to do, with no provision for the (hardly unthinkable) possibility that the replacement team might “fail” as well.
The governor had, and has, the right objective. The state needs to come up with a substantially better plan for achieving it.