The state Board of Education on Monday voted to gut its limits on class sizes over the next year in response to a deepening school budget crisis that has already forced thousands of teacher layoffs and shorter school years across the state.
The move prompted criticism among a majority of candidates for governor, especially Democrats in hot competition for the public school constituency.
But Republicans were decidedly split in their reactions — Karen Handel and John Oxendine called it was a bad idea, Nathan Deal described himself as “disappointed,” Jeff Chapman declared it “the best thing,” and Eric Johnson said “vouchers.”
We asked the major candidates to send us a paragraph or so of commentary on the topic. In alphabetical order:
Attorney General Thurbert Baker:
“For a decade, our leaders have been on a spending spree with a credit card. Now the bill has come due, but instead of cutting government waste to pay for their spending, the politicians are cutting education, just like they always do. Education is the last place they should cut, not the first. Georgia’s kids deserve better.”
Former Gov. Roy Barnes:
“Georgia’s current state leadership traded our children, their teachers and our schools for corporate tax giveaways. They should be ashamed. Furloughing teachers and allowing the drastic increases in class sizes while providing funding for special interest tax breaks and fishing initiatives is not just a failure in leadership, it is a failure in the basic responsibility of state government.”
House Democratic Leader DuBose Porter:
“I am absolutely opposed to the state school board lifting all limits on class sizes. I voted against the legislation that allowed this to happen. We’ve proved smaller class sizes improve student achievement at Saxon Heights Elementary School in Dublin, Georgia, in the mid-1990s when I chaired the House Education Committee.
“Instead of blaming teachers for low scores, we gave them needed tools — including smaller class sizes, support technology, and 100 percent parental involvement. Giving teachers these needed tools allowed Saxon Heights to transform from having some of the state’s lowest reading scores to achieving some of the highest in one year.”
Former National Guard commander David Poythress:
The state Board of Education’s decision to lift class size restrictions is the latest in a string of bad decisions and wrong priorities by our state’s leaders. The Georgia Constitution mandates universal public education and our state’s economic vitality depends on a workforce prepared to compete in the global marketplace….
“The last place we should make through-the-bone cuts is in education. If we don’t invest on our children now, we will be building more prisons later.”
State senator Jeff Chapman of Brunswick:
“The best thing that could ever happen to Georgia’s K-12 education is to have less interference from federal and state government and more local control. Classroom size mandates from the [state] Department of Education are just another example of big government interference… interference that, if not checked, can be corrected at the ballot box.
“I truly believe and studies have proven that if parents become more involved in their children’s education and insist that discipline be returned to the classroom Georgia education would be much better off.”
Former congressman Nathan Deal:
“While I am disappointed that the state school board removed the maximum class size requirement for the next school year, I am reassured that local boards of education will make the final decisions on how best to serve the students in their local communities during these tough times.
“There are no easy answers, but local control allows for flexibility while holding local school boards accountable for student progress. As governor, I will aggressively support school districts’ efforts to determine what skills are needed to produce college, work and life-ready students.
Former secretary of state Karen Handel:
“This is a terrible idea and will simply serve as a route to firing even more classroom educators. We cannot balance the budget this way — we need to make significant, permanent cuts but exempt classroom teachers and public safety personnel. I announced a plan to do just that.
“There is room to cut administrators and others who work outside of classrooms, but not front line teachers. That would have a significant, long-term detrimental effect on education.”
Former state senator Eric Johnson of Savannah:
“[Monday's] decision simply begs for total reform of education funding in Georgia. Everyone, even the school board member that votes to remove class size limitations, wants to achieve lower class sizes. Furthermore, I believe there is enough money in our system to avoid teacher furloughs and class size increases while providing a quality public education.
“The problem is that a lack of competition in the education market place has led to inefficiency and bloated bureaucracy. If the money is allowed to follow the child to the school of their parent’s choice, taxpayers, teachers and children will benefit.”
State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine:
“If Georgia is going to be the best state in the nation to raise a family and start a business, we must ensure that we put our children first by providing them the best possible education. Fully funding our classroom teachers and giving them the tools they need must be the top priorities in our public schools.
“I am adamantly opposed to teacher furloughs, cuts, or taking away incentives for our top performing teachers. As Governor, I know that tough decisions will have to be made, but any cuts in education need to impact bureaucrats, administrators, and then support staff – not teachers, who have the greatest influence on our children.”
Rasmussen Reports is out with a pair of monthly Georgia polls. In the governor’s race:
Democrat Roy Barnes trails three of his top four Republican opponents for the governorship of Georgia again this month. Barnes’ rival for the Democratic nomination, Thurbert Baker, runs a distant second to all the GOP hopefuls.
A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Georgia finds Congressman Nathan Deal still running slightly stronger than the other Republicans. Deal earns 47% support to Barnes’ 40%, virtually identical to his 46% to 39% lead a month ago. Against Baker, Deal posts a 47% to 30% lead.
State Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel edge Barnes by nearly identical margins – 43% to 39% and 42% to 39% respectively.
Incumbent Republican Johnny Isakson is now posting nearly a two-to-one lead over Democratic challenger Michael Thurmond in Georgia’s race for the U.S. Senate.
The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Georgia shows Isakson with 57% of the vote while Thurmond earns 30% support. Six percent (6%) prefer some other candidate, and eight percent (8%) are still undecided.
A month ago, after Thurmond first entered the race, Isakson held a 51% to 35% lead.
Reuters reports that Richard Shelby of Alabama and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia will serve on a Senate conference committee tasked with finalizing a sweeping rewrite of financial regulations in Congress.
Shelby is the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee and Chambliss holds a parallel position on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Both lawmakers voted against the overhaul last week.
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