A statewide teachers group endorsed Democrat Jason Carter’s gubernatorial bid on Wednesday, warning that education funding under Gov. Nathan Deal is “demoralizing and dismantling” the state’s public education system.
Carter trumpeted the endorsement of the Georgia Association of Educators outside Grady High School, where his wife Kate was a journalism teacher. The GAE, which represents 42,000 educators, said it would mobilize its members to support Carter’s campaign.
“Sen. Carter truly wants to make public education our state’s number one priority, not just say so in an occasional opportunity or in an election year, and not just for the headlines,” said Sid Chapman, the GAE’s president. “Sen. Carter believes in true change, and the message and the hope of public education.”
Hidden in Chapman’s lengthy endorsement speech was his group’s uneasiness with the expansion of charter schools under Deal’s administration.
“We will not stand for the privatization of public education in Georgia. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It’s not OK. It’s not right. It’s not moral. And it’s just not going to happen. And Sen. Carter believes in what we’re doing.”
Carter, an Atlanta state senator, has put increasing education funding at the center of his campaign, with a vow to create a separate budget for schools that would be free of legislative tinkering. He has ruled out tax hikes to fund the increase, but has not specified how he would pay for the increase beyond a state spending audit that he said would reveal a “giant amount of waste.”
The governor has offered more modest education proposals, including a push to rewrite Georgia’s complicated school funding formula and a pledge to grant merit pay increases to top teachers. At campaign stops and in a back-to-school dispatch to teachers, he talks of his budget proposal this year included a more than $300 million increase in K-12 spending, though Democrats say funding still falls short of what the state formula requires.
The GAE is the state’s most politically active teachers organization – and is the only educators group that formally backs candidates in electoral contests. (The Professional Association of Georgia Educators is larger, but does not endorse.) Georgia’s 180,000 teachers and their families are a potent force in Georgia politics, and many are also worried that changes to the state health plan could lead to skyrocketing insurance premiums.
The GAE’s endorsement of the Democrat comes as little surprise. The group endorsed then-Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor in 2006 and former Gov. Roy Barnes in 2010 after initially staying out of that race. It made no endorsement during Barnes’ re-election bid in 2002, which came after the Democrat engineered a series of aggressive education reforms during his first term.
Carter, who said the endorsement was a signal that teachers were embracing his campaign, said educators have been largely silenced under Deal’s administration.
“Teachers have been treated for too long as though they are the only problem, when in fact we all know that teachers are the fundamental piece in our educational system,” he said. “The attitude toward educators over the last several years has been incredibly disappointing to me. You’ve watched as the profession has been denigrated, as they’ve been left out of the political discussion.”