Deal on right track with pre-K, HOPE, juvenile justice reform
by Don McKee
Columnist
January 18, 2013 12:35 AM | 1912 views | 2 2 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
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Gov. Nathan Deal has proclaimed that “the state of our state is strong” although it's still feeling the effects of the Great Recession. Thus the governor’s nearly $20 billion budget calls for an average three percent cut for most agencies. But there’s good news for several worthy programs.

Deal wants to add back 10 days that were cut from pre-K during the worst of the recession. This will restore a full 180-day term and raise “the salaries of deserving teachers.” It’s a smart move that will pay dividends, giving thousands of Georgia youngsters a good start in their education. As proof, the governor cited the National Institute for Early Education Research’s awarding Georgia pre-K “its first 10 out of 10 in measures of quality.” Only four other states were so recognized.

Funds for the HOPE scholarship program are increased by three percent in Deal’s budget, boosting total funding in the next fiscal year to almost $600 million. Thanks to this highly successful program, as Deal pointed out, Georgia keeps most of its talented high school graduates in the state. He said that in fiscal 2011 “more than 97 percent of entering in-state freshmen” at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech had HOPE scholarships. This has to prompt a smile by former Gov. Zell Miller, for the lottery-funded HOPE is his brainchild — and by far one of best programs of its kind.

Deal is also on the right track with proposed reforms to provide juvenile offenders with alternatives to prison, building on the success of “accountability courts” to deal with drug abuse, DUI, mental health and veterans. Deal said the increased use of these courts means Georgia “will avoid the need to add 5,000 prison beds over five years and save taxpayers at least $264 million.” These reforms, he said, “simultaneously decrease the number of offenders who end up back in jail after being released — and create productive, taxpaying citizens rather than more dangerous criminals.”

To kick off the new effort in juvenile justice reform, there is a very modest $5 million in Deal’s budget for an incentive program for communities to create and take advantage of such options as substance abuse treatment, family counseling and “viable, alternative sentencing options” for judges. The result should be lower recidivism and substantial savings — especially the $91,000 annual cost for a bed in a youth detention center.

On all these proposals, the governor is on target. On ethics reform which he saved until last, he warned that no matter what elected officials might achieve, “if the citizens of Georgia don’t trust us, it will all be in vain.” He suggested “clear rules” for legislators and “those who deal with you in your capacity as elected officials,” presumably lobbyists. He concluded: “If there is to be an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, it should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels.”

Right on Governor, but there should be no “if” about it.

dmckee9613@aol.com

Comments
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Education mess
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January 20, 2013
Our schools are hurting with the state NOT fully funding Georgia schools. Our teachers are overworked and underpaid. You are so concerned with pre-k teachers but not k-12. What a shame! Teachers have not received raises in Cobb County School distract in years! 2% pay cut 4 years ago with furlough days and increased benefit premiums. Really Deal? In addition, HOPE is NOT fully funded either for college students. Shame!
misterbill
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January 19, 2013
Don,

Thanks for this column. Sometimes the programs are a little hard to understand when one first reads them.

I do believe that juvenile justice needs to be expanded to include those beyond "juvenile". I am aware of some young men and women whose juvenile years--and offenses--are long behind them, but who are still deprived of opportunities to improve and grow because of their records which are easy to see simply by entering their names into Google.

I also give credit to Governor Deal for getting business to come to Georgia which, in my opinion, is a big reason why graduates from our high schools choose to attend Georgia colleges.

Now if our legislators would follow D A King's efforts and advice on illegal immigration, that would open more jobs for Georgians at all levels of education.

PS What happened to the team of seven appointees who are supposed to be overseeing the enforcement of our hiring laws??? Governor Deal should appoint D A to handle that effort.

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