Deal's plan for improving tough schools 'still a goal'
In 2010, then-Congressman Nathan Deal unveiled a series of education initiatives he pledged to enact if voters would sign off on his plans for a job change and elect him Georgia's 82nd governor. Among them was the promise that teachers would have a big financial incentive to work in bad schools.
"Teachers who agree to dedicate their time in one of our state's most underperforming schools would further be rewarded by accruing service credit at twice the rate, earning two years of credit for each calendar year served," Deal said in a press release dated Sept. 7, 2010.
At that time, 503, or 22.6 percent, of the state's 2,221 public schools were failing to make adequate yearly progress, the measure of achievement under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
We checked in with some in-the-know education advocates to see whether they'd heard of any action on this Deal campaign promise. None had. "That's a campaign promise that probably fell victim to a comfortable electoral margin," one said.
We went to Deal's re-election campaign and spokeswoman Jennifer Talaber with some basic questions. Has the governor taken any steps to see whether this could become a reality or is feasible? Has he gotten any projections on the potential costs? Is he still pursuing this?
In one of several email exchanges that followed, Talaber said: "It's still a goal."
But other things had to come first, she said.
"In order to enact any merit-based incentives, we first had to fix the flawed (teacher) evaluation system which, when Deal came to office in 2011, was rating 99 percent of teachers as 'satisfactory'," Talaber said. "We did that in 2013."
The new evaluation system will be fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year, she said.
"Once that groundwork is laid, we can begin pursuing new initiatives," Talaber said.
Deal's plan would allow teachers to earn two years of credit toward retirement for every one year they work in one of the state's most underperforming schools, the spokeswoman said.
No study has been done to determine the costs, Talaber said.
Under the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia, a teacher who retires with 30 years of service can draw about 60 percent of the average of his or her highest two consecutive years of pay. Some districts also offer their teachers a local pension or allow them to participate in Social Security.
As of May 31, the state's teacher retirement system had 214,567 active members and 104,091 retired members. The system paid out more than $3.5 billion in fiscal 2013 and expects to pay out $3.7 billion for the year ending June 30, said Jeff Ezell, the system's executive director.
Deal "remains committed to improving the quality of students' education and rewarding Georgia's most effective teachers," Talaber said.
Based on the information available, we rate this Deal campaign promise as stalled.
The promise outlined in campaign press release, Sept. 10, 2010
Emails with Jennifer Talaber, spokeswoman for the re-election campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal
Emails with Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education
Emails with Jeff Ezell, executive director of the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia
Review of Georgia Department of Education website