Handel and former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal are battling toward an Aug. 10 runoff for the right to take on Democrat Roy Barnes in the November general election.
In her education plan, Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, showed she would make changes in the classroom that Gov. Sonny Perdue couldn't get done during his eight years: establishing performance pay for teachers, revamping the state's education funding formula, and recruiting more math and science teachers. She also wants to expand online classes for K-12 students.
THE DOCUMENT PLAYS up that Handel left home at 17 and never graduated from college, crediting her public education with her career successes, including serving as deputy chief of staff for former Vice President Dan Quayle's wife, Marilyn, and becoming president and CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce.
"We must all unite to ensure that every child has access to a high quality education and the opportunity to graduate from high school and be prepared for whatever is next -- whether that is college or technical school or another path toward workforce preparedness," Handel said in a written statement.
The plan calls for schools to form partnerships with community centers, churches and Boys & Girls Clubs to provide after-school tutoring and classes. It also aims to revive the state's master teacher program, which gives bonuses to teachers who become experts in the classroom.
Handel did not give a cost estimate for her education plan or specify how she would pay it as the state grapples with its worst economic downturn in decades, but she also has called for deep cuts to state spending to downsize government and has even suggested that the state eliminate the personal income tax, which brings in about half of state revenue.
EDUCATION ADVOCATES said Handel's ideas, for the most part, simply expand on what the state is already doing rather than creating a lot of new initiatives.
"It's refreshing to see a candidate who's willing to build on what previous leaders have done and go from there rather than destroying everything or renaming everything and saying, 'Now it's mine,' " said Angela Palm, of the Georgia School Boards Association.
The Deal camp said its own plan for education "takes into consideration the dire shortfalls that our state faces."
"In these tough times, he wants to return power to local school boards, which can best tailor local resources around local needs, by limiting state mandates and bureaucratic hurdles," spokesman Brian Robinson said.
Deal wants to urge local school boards to encourage charter school development and innovation, Robinson said.