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.