2017 Budget Hearings Update
By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)
The Senate reconvened for week two after a day off in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This week was dedicated to Senate and House Appropriation Committee’s budget hearings. Governor Nathan Deal and Georgia’s various agencies outline their policy and budget proposals to the committee members. We also heard from several state economists who presented a positive outlook of Georgia’s economy. They echoed the Governor’s remarks that our state remains number one in the nation for business growth. We are at near full employment and our Rainy Day fund now exceeds $2 billion.
On Tuesday, Governor Deal elaborated on the budget plan he introduced last week in his State of the State Address. Among the governor’s recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) general budget is a $2 billion allocation for transportation funding. These funds will go towards improving and upgrading aging aspects of our transportation infrastructure, such as road repaving, road expansions and bridge repairs. These upgrades will ensure that our state’s roadways remain safe and easily traversable for all those who travel in or around our state.
Education has been and will remain a top priority for us this year. Our graduation rates are at an all-time high and our test scores are outpacing the national average. In order to keep up with the growing demands of our public education system, Governor Deal has recommended an additional $133.2 million for enrollment growth and training, as well as $240 million in bond packages to fund the construction of new schools and school equipment. The HOPE scholarship remains an important pathway to higher education for so many of Georgia’s students and the governor has recommended an additional $49.3 million in order to ensure that pathway remains open.
You can find Governor Deal’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 amended budget and the Governor Deal’s proposed Fiscal Year 2018 general budget online at https://opb.georgia.gov/.
In the coming weeks, we will begin to hold committee meetings in order to individually evaluate legislation. Your feedback is important to my work on your behalf, so please continue reaching out to discuss legislation with me. I take every phone call, email or office visit into consideration when casting my vote in the Senate chamber. Please do not hesitate to call or email me at any time. I am in office to serve you!
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Sen. Steve Gooch serves as Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus. He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at 404.656.9221 or via email at email@example.com.
Pickens County Board of Education Chairman Mike Cowart and State Representative Chris Coomer led presentations concerning Governor Deal’s proposed Amendment 1 creating Opportunity School Districts to help some 130 failing schools in Georgia. There has to be a constitutional amendment because the legislation gives control of local schools to the state rather than elected school boards.
State Representative Chris Coomer, from Cartersville, and Mike Cowart, Chairman of the Pickens County Board of Education, led a discussion about Governor Deal’s Opportunity School District known as Amendment 1 on the November 8, ballot.
At issue is Governor Deal’s Constitutional Amendment to address some 130 failing schools with 68,000 students. These “F” schools are defined as scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure (CCRPI) for three consecutive years.
The top three counties with failing schools include: Dekalb 28, Atlanta Public 22 and Richmond 19. Some 60% of all Georgia students qualify for free and reduced lunches with 35% of those students living in poverty.
The reason for an Amendment to the Georgia’s constitution is that the Opportunity School District replaces local control with a state takeover. Article VII, Education under Section V Local School Systems states, “each school system shall be under the management and control of a board of education, the members of which shall be elected as provided by law.”
In proposing and pushing the legislation Governor Deal has stated, “we have a moral duty to do everything we can to help these children. When we talk about helping failing schools, we are talking about rescuing children”
Coomer addressed several myths that have circulated concerning Amendment 1. “The state is not going to come in and take over a school without community support and involvement. The Opportunity School District would have it’s administrative leadership appointed by the Governor but local business persons, parents and community leaders would be part of the process”.
Also, he pointed to Tennessee and New Orleans with similar programs where student’s scores have increased. In New Orleans nearly 65% of African-American males are graduating as compared to 60.2% across Louisiana.
An OSD would remain under the Governor’s supervision for five consecutive years or if it performed above “F” for three years it could be removed. The legislation says no more than 20 schools per year or no more than 100 eligible schools at any given time.
Pickens County Board of Education Chairman Mike Cowart informed the group that the Pickens Board of Education joined with Dawson, Cherokee, Forsyth and more in passing a resolution against the proposed resolution.
Cowart said, “we see no need in the Amendment. Last year our Board of Education signed the State Department of Education’s Strategic Waiver Contract stating we would increase test scores 3 out of five years.” All Boards of Education had to decide between the Strategic Waiver or being a Charter School..
He continued, “each of our schools have an Advisory Council composed of an administrator, teacher, business or community leader and parents. Much of what is in Amendment 1 we are already doing.”
In a recent AJC story Governor Deal told about his dad Noah Deal being booted out of a south Georgia teaching job. “My family has experienced when politics becomes a dominant factor in education,” stated Deal. He continued, “we have relegated the authority to these local school boards forever and the result is exactly what we are up against now.”
Both Deal’s parents and wife were educators and his commitment to education may be seen in noticing 55% of all state dollars in FY 2016 budget is spent on education. He has spent more of the state’s general funds budget K-12 than any governor in the past 50 years and increased QBE funding by 21%.
For more information visit Georgia.gov>opportunityschooldistrict and local Board’s resolution link at www.pickenscountyschools.org. The Rotary Club of Jasper meets Wednesday noon for fellowship and service to the community and the world. The meetings are open to learn more Jasper Rotary
by: Max Caylor
On Tuesday evening, Gov. Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for 15 counties under a winter storm warning. These counties include Dade, Walker, Catoosa, Chatooga, Whitfield, Murray, Gordon, Fannin, Gilmer, Union, Towns, Pickens, Dawson, Lumpkin and White Counties.
“The winter storm is predicted to cause snow and ice accumulations on roads and bridges in affected areas, and the safety of our residents is my top priority” Deal said. “I’ve directed the Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security (GEMA/HS) to coordinate with the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Natural Resources to move assets to area where snow and ice are expected. GEMA/HS will work with local officials, including those school systems, to ensure resources are available as needed.”
Following heavy rains, thunderstorms, and flooding Georgia Governor has declared a State of Emergency in three counties in north Georgia, Fannin, Pickens, and Gilmer Counties.
More severe weather is in the forecast for Christmas day. Governor Deal has stated they will continue to monitor the situation. Additional counties may be added.