It was the first time the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor have met to talk about their education platforms since they won their parties' nominations. Though it was not a formal debate, the conversation over some issues grew heated as Barnes outlined his plans to raise more than $1 billion for schools and Deal talked about more flexibility - not more money - for school districts.
Barnes challenged Deal's support for vouchers, which give taxpayer dollars to parents to send their children to private schools. Deal says vouchers deserve debate by lawmakers, while Barnes is squarely against them.
Barnes, a Democrat, said the voucher movement in Georgia is part of an "anti-public school sentiment" that's been growing at the Capitol.
"I'm not signing a voucher bill. I'm not going to allow you to starve the public school system," the former governor said.
But Deal skirted the issue of vouchers, a Republican staple unpopular with teachers.
"There may be situations in which vouchers are appropriate," the former Republican congressman said. "I will not support anything that has an adverse effect on public education."
During the Republican primary campaign, Deal said he joined with former Georgia Rep. Newt Gingrich to vote in favor of a voucher program for Washington, D.C., schools.
During the education forum, Deal continued to criticize Barnes' plan to raise more than $1 billion for education by suspending tax exemptions for special interests, saying the former governor wants to increase taxes. Both said they support a point-of-sales tax collection system that would ensure more revenue is brought into the state.
Barnes, who denies that his plan includes tax hikes, said education needs to stop bleeding in order to turn the state's economy around.
"Those who get breaks right now, we've all got to share the pain," Barnes said. "Everybody is going to share the hurt except those that have lobbyist down at the Capitol who can strike a private deal. I think that's unfair."
Both Deal and Barnes have been wooing teachers heading into the November election. Barnes has made education his signature issue, while Deal has been criticized for waiting until mid-September to outline the specifics of his education plan.
While Barnes has proposed more sweeping changes to boost student achievement and replace lost education funding, Deal is targeting smaller programs he says would help move education forward without breaking the bank.
Barnes also is trying to win over teachers upset over his first term in the governor's mansion. His defeat in a 2002 re-election bid has been attributed in part to teachers' groups campaigning against Barnes.