State of the State
Education funding key part of Deal’s speech
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Education was a big component of Gov. Nathan Deal’s State of the State speech Wednesday, with Deal laying out plans for increased spending on K-12 education and proposals to expand the HOPE grant for technical college students.
When it comes to technical education, Deal is asking the legislature to create the “Zell Miller HOPE Grant” for students in technical colleges. Similar to the Zell Miller scholarship at university system colleges, the proposed grant would pay 100 percent of tuition for technical college students who maintain a 3.5 grade point average.
Changes over the years to the HOPE program designed to put it on firmer financial footing have reduced the amount that it pays toward tuition, and there is no longer funding for books and fees.
Deal is recommending that both the HOPE Scholarship and HOPE Grant be funded at 103 percent of last year’s funding.
He’s also proposing to expand the technical fields of study that are already eligible for 100 percent tuition.
“Last year, we identified three areas of study in our technical colleges where jobs already existed. Those were commercial driving, practical nursing and early childhood education,” Deal said. "For students who pursued those areas, we have paid 100 percent of their tuition through the HOPE Grant. This year I am asking you to expand that to an additional four areas of training — welding, health care technology, diesel mechanics and information technology.”
Additionally, Deal is proposing to set aside $10 million for loans for technical school students with financial needs. The 1 percent interest loans will help pay for tuition, books and fees.
The “Governor’s High Demand Career Initiative” will bring together representatives of economic development, the university system and technical schools, “along with key leaders in some of our important private-sector industries” to discuss future workforce needs and “give our institutions of education the change to get ahead of the curve in preparing tomorrow’s workforce,” Deal said.
“Gov. Deal has focused on workforce education,” said Mark Whitlock, CEO of the Coweta County School System’s Central Educational Center in Newnan, through programs such as Go Build Georgia and a “renewed effort by the state to make sure that the skilled labor is available.”
“This looks like continuation and an expansion of that,” Whitlock said. Companies “continue to seek out people who can fill” needed positions.
“Those are challenges for our companies and opportunities for our students … it’s great to see the governor continue down that path and grow that effort,” Whitlock said.
Expanding the fields of study that qualify for 100 percent HOPE Grant funding “looks like a great way to target the spending of additional dollars in high priority areas,” Whitlock said. “That looks like a good financial move for our state. It will pay off, since our companies need people with those technical skills.”
When it comes to K-12 funding, Deal is proposing an additional $547 million in the fiscal year 2015 budget. In the speech Deal said his proposal “represents the largest single year increase in K-12 funding in seven years.”
The additional funding will “enable us, in partnership with local school districts, to restore instructional days, eliminate teacher furloughs and increase teacher salaries,” Deal said in the speech. “These funds will provide our local school systems with the resources and flexibility to address the most critical needs of their students and teachers.
“The governor’s comments today were encouraging,” said Coweta School Superintendent Steve Barker. “As Governor Deal mentioned, it has been difficult times for school systems, including ours. We will continue to monitor this year’s legislative session to see how the budget items mentioned today are implemented. It is encouraging to me to hear that we may see some help for our school system employees.”
Deal is also proposing $44.8 million to “better connect every classroom in Georgia, including those in rural areas, to the Internet and digital resources students need to thrive.”
Whitlock is glad to see the additional funding to make sure all Georgia students can access the Internet.
“So much of our learning now is done digitally,” Whitlock said. “It is going to be important for all areas of our state to have that access for local citizens — because that is the way most people will learn in the future. It won’t be their total learning, but it will certainly be an important part of the way they learn."