Shortly after Gov. Nathan Deal announced that an industry trade magazine tabbed Georgia as the No. 1 state in the nation to do business for the fourth consecutive year, the Republican drew a dotted line between the passage of his failing schools initiative and future economic development accolades.
“I want to make sure we can continue that,” he said Wednesday, referring to Site Selection magazine’s ranking of Georgia. “And part of that means we have to have a pipeline of educated children who become educated adults and become employees in the businesses that are coming to our state.”
Deal appears increasingly on the defensive about the fate of the Opportunity School District, a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to take control of perennially failing schools.
Teachers groups and other opponents have pumped more than $5 million to oppose the plan, polls show strong resistance from both Democrats and Republicans and more than 40 school boards have come out against it.
Deal and his allies still have favorable ballot language on their side, and millions of dollars in advertisements urging for its passage. But the governor has recently stepped up his fight with school boards, hinting at a new policy approach if his measure fails to pass.
And on Wednesday he cast the ballot question as the only option at his disposal to help students in failing schools, who he said are locked in a cycle of poverty and crime.
“If we don’t give these students – and most of them are minority students – if we don’t give them a chance for a good education, then they are simply going to continue to fall further and further behind,” he said. “Everyone ought to be concerned about that.”
He was asked whether he was frustrated that many Republicans have vigorously fought the plan, joining the teachers groups, Democrats and other more traditional Deal adversaries who have ratcheted up their opposition.
“Would I have preferred to do something else? Obviously. I’m in my last term as governor. I didn’t have to take this on,” he said. “But I think there’s a responsibility when you’re elected to be the governor of this state to focus on the problems that your state has.”