Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Getting schooled on education in governor's race

Fifth-grade student Tracey Bridges works a problem on the board at Venetian Hills Elementary School Monday, March 3, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM
Fifth-grade student Tracey Bridges works a problem on the board at Venetian Hills Elementary School Monday, March 3, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON / KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

One of Georgia's most highly contested races in the November election will be for governor.

And one of the main issus in the battle between incumbent Republican Nathan Deal and Jason Carter, a Democratic state senator from Atlanta, will be education.

PolitiFact Georgia will follow the close race through the fall. But a handful of claims on education already captured our attention.

Smell smoke? Here's why

Education is one of the hottest issues in the governor's race, but that heat is not why you might smell smoke.

The campaign manager for Carter for Governor made a bold statement in a June 18 press release: "Gov. Deal has the worst record on education in the history of this state."

Georgia's school systems were collectively short-changed more than $1 billion a year in each of the first three years of Gov. Nathan Deal's term in office. These "austerity cuts" started in 2003 under Gov. Sonny Perdue and will continue into the fiscal year that started Tuesday, though at a lesser $746.6 million.

The Carter camp said McGrath's statement was in regard to education funding, though that's not what it said. The proof the camp offered was the size of the austerity cuts under Deal, (Separate from the austerity cuts, the education budget has increased every year under Deal.).

The claim fails to acknowledge the 81 governors before Deal, who followed presided over a state that made almost no attempt to educate poor whites, banned education for enslaved blacks, and aided and abetted the removal of Native American children and their parents to reservations in the West.

With that kind of checkered state history on education, the label "worst" could not be proved and went far beyond being a stretch. We rated McGrath's statement Pants On Fire.

The Deal on education

Republicans are touting what they see as Deal’s accomplishments in education, knowing the importance of the issue.

In a June 4 press release, state GOP leaders weighed in with this claim: "Even when all other state agencies took cuts, Gov. Nathan Deal increased education spending."

We tackled the claim in two parts: Did education spending increase every year during Deal’s administration, which began in January 2011, and during that same period, did all other state agencies set budgets cut?

Numbers from state records, and confirmed with the state’s budget chief Teresa MacCartney, show an increase of $868,643,987 -- or $402 per student, since Deal took office. The biggest chunk -- about $399 million -- is effective for fiscal 2015, which began July 1. But enrollment growth and rising costs drove the bulk of those increases, which means many school systems still had to furlough teachers and make other cuts.

The second question is a bit clearer. Our research found more than two dozen state agencies that saw budget increases in one or more years in Deal’s tenure, including the Department of Corrections, which saw its budget grow by $186 million.

So the state Republican Party was on target to say Deal increased spending for education every year since taking office. But it’s also important to know that while austerity cuts to schools are being reduced in the coming year by Deal, they still persist.

It was a huge overreach to say that the state Department of Education was uniquely spared from budget cuts in Deal’s tenure. Other agencies also saw increases, so that part of the statement is incorrect.

We rated the statement Mostly False.