The Georgia Federation of Teachers helped strike a fatal blow in Gov. Nathan Deal’s education initiative. Now the educators group is demanding a sit-down with the governor to discuss a new path forward.
The federation was among the teachers associations that opposed Deal’s Opportunity School District constitutional amendment, which would have empowered the state to take control of persistently struggling schools. It failed by an overwhelming margin amid opposition from both parties.
Verdaillia Turner, the group’s president, said the governor “cannot afford to wait” until January to begin the conversation with educators.
“It is time to raise the bar. Georgia voters sent a message that we can no longer pander to political agendas when it comes to schools and kids,” she said. “In the past, educators who were not handpicked by elected officials were excluded from the process. Decisions were somehow made without our input. This must cease.”
Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan said the governor "has been engaged with educators since his first day in office" and created a teacher advisory council for that reason.
"The governor put forth a solution to address chronically failing schools, which special interests groups and unions from out of state, opposed. Though adults made it about them, this initiative was always aimed at helping 68,000 children, and Gov. Deal has not forgotten about them," she said. "At the same time, he looks forward to hearing the solutions of these unions and special interest groups."
The polls predicted a defeat for the Opportunity School District for months, and even Deal had floated the prospect of a Plan B. Still, the measure’s lopsided failure in the polls — it went down 60 percent to 40 percent with solid opposition from Republicans and Democrats — is a rebuke to his second-term initiative.
Deal’s allies cast the defeat as a byproduct of more than $5 million in spending from education groups and other opponents who see this as a national proxy battle. The critics saw it as a government overreach that would have given Deal’s office too much power.
The governor has already said he wants local school boards to start helping more children who are attending low-performing schools switch to the school of their choice, and his staffers signaled he’s ready to restrict local school board flexibility in how they use state money for teacher pay raises. But he’s been tight-lipped about what specific moves he’ll make next.
More of the AJC’s post-election coverage: