Carter says education must be top priority
by W. Winston Skinner
Jason Carter, Democratic candidate for governor, says the current administration is “trading in the future” by short-changing education – something he pledged to stop, if elected.
Carter was the keynote speaker for the annual Atkinson-Arnall Dinner at the Newnan Centre on Friday night. The Coweta County Democratic Party is named for the two Democratic governors from Coweta County, William Yates Atkinson and Ellis Gibbs Arnall.
Carter said Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican seeking a second term, has cut money year after year from public school budgets, and he said the state is paying a price for that now. Although the number of students in the state has grown, there are 9,000 fewer teachers than five years ago.
Two-thirds of Georgia’s systems have cut the number of instructional days, and most have increased class sizes. A total of 91 school districts have had to raise taxes because of the state cuts.
A keystone of Carter’s platform is having a separate budget for education, which would be put together first – with other programs being handled in a second overall budget. “That’s what it means to have a priority,” he said.
The HOPE Scholarship, once a model for similar programs across the nation, has been gutted, Carter charged.
“They have transformed that program from one about access to public education to one about access for essentially the richest people in the state,” he said. There are 45,000 fewer HOPE scholars than there were before those changes were made.
That represents a personal tragedy for would-be students. In addition, “that’s an army of workers who are missing from our economy,” Carter said.
Republicans “will tell you they saved it,” he said of HOPE. “In my family, we’d say you are eating our seed corn.”
Short-changing education has far-reaching ripples, Carter said. The average Georgia family makes $6,000 a year less than it did five years ago, and one in four Georgia children lives in poverty.
In June, the state lost 9,000 jobs. “That is the worst in the country. In July, we lost 12,000 more,” he said. “We are reaping what we have sown for the last several years under this governor.”
The Republicans have spent millions running ads about how strong the state’s economy is. “If you have to tell people how good it is, it’s not going well,” Carter said. “If this is the best the governor can do, we need a new governor.”
Carter predicted voters “are going to hear so much” about education in the 80 days between now and the November election. “Let me tell you, there’s a difference between a governor who cares about education every year and a governor who only cares about education in an election year,” he said.
“We’re all here in part tonight because we have a vision for our state. That vision is one that Georgia is ready for. It just is,” said Carter, a state senator and resident of DeKalb County.
“Georgia is ready to put our kids first. Georgia is ready for an economy that works for an average, everyday person – instead of just the governor’s friends,” Carter said. “The future of Georgia is a future where nobody gets left out.”
Carter is the grandson of U.S. Pres. Jimmy Carter, and his family has been in Georgia since the 1700s. “All that history is not why I’m running for governor,” he said, explaining he is seeking the governorship because of his two young sons.
“I want them to grow up … and I don’t want them to ever have to move away to get a good education or a good job,” he said.
Carter recognized and praised the other Democratic candidates attending the Atkinson-Arnall Dinner in Newnan – Connie Stokes, who is running for lieutenant governor; Cynthia Bennett, who is running for the District 28 state senate seat; and Bob Trammell, who is seeking the District 132 state house seat.
He talked about the time and travel required for a statewide race as he and Stokes have. “This is a big state. We put 2,400 miles on a car in one week,” he said. “We have taken the campaign to every corner of the state.”
Carter said he is meeting enthusiastic crowds like the one in Newnan everywhere he goes. He is seeing “people who are ready for something new,” he said. “They know the direction we’re going in is not where we want to go.”
Georgia’s Democrats, Carter said, are “ready to charge into the future.”