A governor’s got to do what a governor’s got to do, but Gov. Nathan Deal’s vetoes of the "campus carry" and "religious liberty" bills make me wonder if I wasted a year of my life in an effort that is not going to go unpunished.
Before his re-election in 2014, the governor told me in an interview that he was planning a major education reform effort in his second term after having successfully reformed the state’s criminal-justice system in his first term. For all the criticism about how Georgia lags the nation in so many categories, our criminal-justice system is a model for the rest of the nation, thanks to Deal. He said he wanted to do the same thing for education.
I suggested to the governor that this would be a daunting task, given that public education is not — and has not been — a priority in our state. The most positive thing I could say about the subject is that it provides me a lot of column fodder to rail against those who are hell-bent to abandon public education without making an effort to fix what ails it.
Public education is extremely up-close-and-personal to me. I have a son, son-in-law and grandson who are high school science teachers — and good ones. My son-in-law was one of the very first National Board Certified teachers in the state and was promised a 10 percent stipend for his efforts. During the reign of noted bass-fishing aficionado Gov. George E. "Sonny" Perdue, that stipend was dropped. So much for the state keeping its word.
Deal said he was going to put together an Education Reform Commission to look at every facet of public education, including how it should be funded. He remembered during his time as a state senator that I had been involved with Gov. Joe Frank Harris in the creation of Quality Basic Education, which established a funding formula that was supposed to level the playing field for poorer school systems in our state and provide their students education opportunities equal to that of the more affluent systems. Sadly, but not surprisingly, in its three decades of existence, QBE has never been fully funded or updated by the Legislature.
I was asked to join the commission along with a group of legislators, educators and representatives of various educational organizations. I was assigned to the Funding Committee, which was tasked with the responsibility of coming up with recommendations on how to best fund the cost of education going forward.
I took a bit of heat from some schoolteachers — goaded by their education associations — because there were no teachers on the commission and that I was being used by the governor (fat chance of that). I think the education associations were miffed because they were not included on the commission. In fact, teachers were ably represented through a committee chaired by one of their own, Pam Williams, Georgia’s 2011 Teacher of the Year from Appling County, and given ample opportunity to express their concerns, which they did.
The commission’s mandate was to get our recommendations to the governor’s hands in time for the 2016 legislative session. That turned out to be an unrealistic goal. We finished our work this past December and submitted our findings to Deal with the understanding the recommendations would be considered in the 2017 session.
Now come the vetoes, which have riled a number of conservatives. Then there is the fact that the governor is nearing the end of his second and last term, and the not-insignificant issue of who will be jockeying to replace him in the governor’s office in 2018. That question is up in the air, but whoever it is, I don’t think they are going to fall on a sword to save this governor’s education-reform efforts. Why would they? And don’t forget the ideologues in the Legislature who will get re-elected this fall and return to Atlanta, ready to stick it to public education and the teachers who helped elect them.
Given all this, I fear a year’s worth of hard work by the Education Reform Commission may have been in vain. I hope I am wrong, but at this point, I am not optimistic. What I do know is this: Our schoolteachers should not be held hostage by a bunch of politicians who are mad at the governor for reasons that have nothing to do with them. And I don’t intend to let it happen.