The first week of the legislative session continued as usual today with Gov. Nathan Deal's appraisal of the State of the State . As expected, Deal touched on successes and further plans for the criminal-justice reforms he has championed since taking office. He also made the case for more transportation funding -- generally, though not for specific proposals to raise and/or free up the money -- by noting the sharp reduction in the purchasing power of the state's motor fuel tax over the years.
But he focused much of his time on education. A few highlights:
- An Education Reform Commission, explicitly modeled after his successful task force for criminal-justice reform, will examine expanding early learning programs, increasing the quality of classroom teachers and "expanding school options for Georgia's families."
- Part of the commission will zero in on the state's QBE formula, which determines how state education dollars are distributed to local districts. Likening the 1980s-era formula to dated look of jelly shoes and obsolescence of Commodore 64s, Deal called for funding instead to be "driven by student need that provides local schools and district leaders with real control and flexibility." That's a reference to QBE's focus on programs, which doesn't necessarily match up with student needs and is subject to being gamed by the districts. The idea is to have a new funding regime in place for the 2016-17 school year.
- Deal didn't refer to his Democratic challenger in last year's election, Jason Carter, but he did note, "This year's budget coupled with my proposal for next year's budget represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education." That's the exact annual dollar figure Carter, on the campaign trail, repeatedly said Georgia's schools had been shorted.
- Deal also made his pitch for the Opportunity School District constitutional amendment I wrote about recently . He argued for it in several ways, with this conclusion:
"Liberals cannot defend leaving a child trapped in a failing school that sentences them to a life in poverty. Conservatives like me cannot argue that each child in Georgia already has the same opportunity to succeed and compete on his or her own merits. We have a moral duty to help these children who cannot help themselves. The sea is great and the boat is small, but the boat must not have first- and second-class seating."
(That last bit about the boat was one of many references in the speech to a "fisherman's prayer," a copy of which Deal said had sat on President Kennedy's desk: "Oh, God, Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.")