Once upon a time, there was a lieutenant governor in Georgia who later became governor. He had a vision for improving public education in the state. His name was Zell Miller. His vision was the HOPE scholarship, funded by the Georgia Lottery, which gives financial assistance to eligible students who attend our state’s colleges and universities. It has been a game-changer.
Prior to the creation of HOPE, I was laughed out of private schools for suggesting to counselors that their students might consider attending the University of Georgia. No longer. Today, I get entreaties from private school parents whose children can’t get into UGA.
Now, another lieutenant governor has a vision for improving public education in Georgia. His name is Casey Cagle. I suspect he might be running for governor, but I haven’t asked him because I know he wouldn’t tell me at this point in time.
He has a new book out, entitled "Education Unleashed," that spells out what our public education system needs to do to ensure that Georgia builds a world-class workforce to attract new industries and ensure current businesses don’t have to import labor from outside the state, as well as helping students find a career path that utilizes their skillsets and interests.
"I wrote the book," he told me in his office, "to paint a very clear vision of what education can become in Georgia and highlighting the two specific programs that have demonstrated remarkable successes." Both programs are already up and running and Casey Cagle was the driving force behind their creation.
One is the charter system model which currently numbers 40 public school systems in the state with another two about to come online. That equates to about 20 percent of the student population in Georgia.
The other program is the College and Career Academy, where businesses partner with local high schools and technical colleges to allow students to obtain a technical certificate upon graduation and to begin employment with a local company. Students receive specific training and develop specialized skills that will allow them to pursue a career path that utilizes those individual skill sets or to continue their post-secondary education.
Cagle said, "I call our charter systems ‘laboratories of innovation’ that not only motivate the students but assure Georgia industries of a qualified workforce." Each charter system puts together a five-year strategic plan with goals and measurements, not unlike what takes place in the corporate world and pushes governance down to the local community level in exchange for higher than normal accountability. The lieutenant governor says, on average, the charter systems are outperforming every other school system in the state based on the Milestones test.
As for the College and Career Academy, the specified student training is attractive to area businesses and communities prosper from a highly-trained local workforce. Currently, about 20,000 students are enrolled in 37 academies around the state. It is Casey Cagle’s intention that every student in Georgia have access to these academies by 2020.
Cagle said, "In public education, we must get away from the one-size-fits-all model of top-down management and reverse it to a bottoms-up system and take each student as far as you can take them academically and prepare them for life. I have provided a very clear road map that says if you want the clutter out of the classroom and ownership and decision-making in your local school, here is your opportunity."
He believes change must come to public education in the next five years or the public will grow tired of the issue and find alternative ways to educate their children.
With evangelistic fervor, Casey Cagle believes charter systems and College and Career Academies are the answer to what ails public education in Georgia. In "Education Unleashed," Cagle says, "Charter systems and College and Career Academies are proving every day that we can redesign our schools to provide high quality education to all our students." In doing so, Cagle believes schools under local control with high accountability will create a better community.
While Gov. Nathan Deal’s prepares his education reform package for the 2017 legislative session, Lt. Gov. Cagle doesn’t believe anything being proposed will impact his initiatives which are already in place.
There is a governor’s race coming up in 2018. It will be interesting to see if this lieutenant governor intends to carry his vision for improving public education into the governor’s office as did Zell Miller. If so, may he have equal success.