In watching the Atlanta Press Club debates tonight, I see little difference in the two Republican candidates for state school superintendent, John Barge and Richard Woods, making it a difficult decision for GOP voters next month.
Both oppose the federal Race to the Top grants, which has put them on the wrong side of the governor who very much wants the possible $400 million grant that will be awarded in September.
That is why Gov. Sonny Perdue has bypassed both men in favor of independent candidate Brad Bryant. The governor also appointed Bryant, a Republican attorney and a state school board member, interim superintendent to fill the final six months of Kathy Cox’s term.
Woods and Barge both favor cutting ties with the federal government, even to the extreme of rejecting federal education dollars. A Bartow County schools administrator, Barge said the federal government has “shackled” Georgia teachers. An Irwin County administrator, Woods said the federal government is responsible for the testing mania that has grabbed hold of classrooms.
But I cannot imagine that many parents would favor severing all ties with the U.S. Department of Education or turning down federal dollars. Many parents want to see their kids keeping up with their counterparts in Massachusetts and Iowa. They want national benchmarks. They want some oversight of state schools, particularly transplants who come here with a wariness of Georgia education quality.
I do not think many Republican middle-class parents have enough faith in the education institutions overall here to endorse Georgia becoming an island, operating on its own without any federal intervention or involvement. I can see revolt from the former New Yorkers now living in Alpharetta if the state DOE announced that it would become the only arbiter of how well Georgia schools and students were doing.
One odd part of the debate was when the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Woods went first. Rather than using the opportunity to highlight a weakness in his opponent, Woods asked Barge to detail his 19 years of experience in education, thus creating a chance for Barge to share his credentials in detail.
Barge, on the other hand, used his question to Woods to point out that Woods’ education experience has been confined to a 1,700-student rural district.
Anybody else watching the debates?
If you ask me, I suspect the middle-class metro surburban GOP vote in November will go to Bryant.