School funding not political, Deal says

ATLANTA -- Gov. Nathan Deal denied Thursday he boosted education spending in the new state budget to win votes in his re-election as Sen. Jason Carter charges.

The budget was approved by the legislature in March for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The Republican governor said it was the Democratic challenger who plays politics by voting for all of Deal’s budgets until this year.

“Every single year I have been governor, we’ve increased the education funding, and the first three years Jason Carter has saw fit to vote for my budgets that included those increases in k-12 funding,” Deal told reporters. “Only in this year when he decided he wanted to be governor, which included the largest single restoration of k-12 funding, did he vote against it. I think the conclusion is pretty clear: that is a political statement on his part.”

Deal is responding to ads and stump speeches by Carter accusing the incumbent of cutting the state education budget more than any Georgia governor.

“There are a lot of politicians who say they care about education in election years. Then they cut education every other year,” Carter says in one ad. “It’s like Nathan Deal. Gov. Deal shorted our schools billions of dollars and cut HOPE Scholarships, while taking care of his big corporate friends.”

Spending on k-12 education has increased, even in years when weak tax collections prompted Deal to cut spending in other parts of the budget. But that growth hasn’t kept pace with funding formulas in state law, which is what Carter describes as a “cut.”

“I think it’s disingenuous to say on his part that I have been the one that’s cut education,” Deal said. “I have increased education funding every year that I have been governor.”

Deal said if he were only after votes with his education spending plan, he would have given teachers a pay raise. Instead, he recommended the legislature send the latest half-billion-dollar boost to local school boards for them to decide whether they want to use it for raises, ending teacher furloughs or other uses.

Deal did recommend changes in 2011 in both the HOPE Scholarship program going to university students and HOPE Grants for technical colleges as a way to stem projected losses. It won bipartisan support in the General Assembly, but he reversed course on the grants the next year after enrollment dropped by more than 24,000.

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