Georgia governor calls for school funding

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ATLANTA — Using a financial cushion denied him in his first budget, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal called Tuesday evening for an end to education cuts and instead requested new spending at all levels, from pre-K to medical school.

Gov. Nathan Deal (center) is flanked by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (left), and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as he delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly in the House Chambers on Tuesday in Atlanta.  John Bazemore/Associated Press
John Bazemore/Associated Press
Gov. Nathan Deal (center) is flanked by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge (left), and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle as he delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly in the House Chambers on Tuesday in Atlanta.

He announced his recommendation to fund more prison beds, parole officers and “accountability courts” that use intensive supervision for minor offenders who have mental health issues or addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Details of Deal’s budget proposal will be released today.

Last year’s version was lean because lingering effects of the recession continued to dampen tax collections. The state’s reserves then would have funded less than two days of operations, but today they’ve grown 183 percent to $328 million.

“When we met last year, we faced a difficult budget situation in which the low-hanging fruit and easy fixes were gone,” he said. “And yet, we worked together to pass structurally balanced budgets that fund the essential services upon which Georgians depend. And we did it without new taxes.”

On Tuesday, he laid out plans for increased spending in more than a dozen programs, such as:

• Adding 10 class days to the pre-K program

• $20 million to loan-interest college loans

• $147 million to kindergarten-12th grade education

• $111.3 million to universities and technical colleges

• $3.7 million for school nurses

• $1.6 million for reading tutors

• $1.4 million for new parole officers

• $35.2 million for added prison beds.

He also wants to initiate new programs. One would use $10 million to create “accountability courts” around the state that would use intensive supervision instead of incarceration for those who commit minor offenses while under the influence of mental illness or addiction.

To make his point, he introduced Sarah Gilleland, who was addicted to cocaine and methamphetamine when she got into trouble, lost custody of her daughter and wound up homeless.

“Under the supervision of a drug court, piece by piece, she began rebuilding her life,” he said. “With help, she beat addiction; she won back her daughter; she is now a sponsor helping other women who face the same trials.”

Gilleland and her daughter received a standing ovation as she joined Deal’s wife in the gallery of the Capitol.

Another new area of attention is funding 400 graduate-medical education slots at hospitals in the state so recently graduated physicians can get clinical experience.

The reluctance of hospitals to take on the expense, and the lack of federal money for it, has limited the number of physicians who can do their residency study in Georgia, and as a result, many chose to settle down in states where they were residents. That has made it difficult for Georgia to solve its nagging physician shortage.

“Presently, because we lack adequate residency program capacity, Georgia taxpayers help fund a promising young Georgian’s pre-K, K-12, postsecondary and graduate-level medical education only to see them perform their residency outside of our state and not return,” he said. “That doesn’t provide value for Georgians paying taxes. It doesn’t make sense for Georgians needing care, and it isn’t fair to young Georgians looking to begin medical careers.”

Deal’s staff didn’t release details of his proposal. Some estimates have ranged at $60,000 to 100,000 for each residency slot.

MONEY TO FIGHT CANCER

Gov. Nathan Deal set as a goal Tuesday for Georgia Health Sciences University to be ranked as one of the top 50 medical schools in the U.S. One way is for it to win national ranking as a cancer center.

He is calling for $5 million in funding for GHSU’s cancer center. The state’s cancer death rate exceeds the national average, he told lawmakers:

“I believe we have all of the ingredients necessary to be a destination for cancer research and a resource for every family battling this disease. This designation would mean greater access to research dollars and enhance our ability to recruit top cancer specialists. Even more, it will place Georgians battling this horrific disease first in line for the newest, most promising therapies and clinical trials.”

– Walter Jones, Morris News Service

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