Gov. Sonny Perdue called for an overhaul in the way teachers are paid Monday and promised more funding to care for the disabled and mentally ill.
Perdue also said he’s more optimistic than he has been in years that Georgia will reach a water sharing agreement this year with Florida and Alabama to safeguard Atlanta’s drinking water supply. And he proposed legislation that would allow Georgians to buy insurance policies across state lines.
All that, and a few other tidbits, came in a morning speech to more than 2,000 Georgia Chamber of Commerce members assembled in Atlanta for the chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast. The breakfast has become a fixture at the start of the state’s legislative session now under way in Atlanta and a place for state leaders to roll out policy proposals.
Details of the governor’s education plan will be rolled out in the days to come, but Perdue said the basic idea is simple: Reward teachers with higher salaries for student achievement, not for getting new degrees.
Starting in 2014, teachers could opt into that new system, or stick with the old one, he said. New teachers would automatically go into the new system and would stand to make as much as school administrators and successful coaches, he said. Just how much they stand to make remains to be seen.
Those details, along with the standards used to measure teachers, will be worked up with input from teachers and the state Board of Education, the governor’s office said after Perdue’s speech.
But the standards would be half based on student progress and half on principal and peer teacher evaluations, his office said.
The changes would be made as an offshoot to the state’s entrance into a new federal grant program called Race to the Top, which Perdue said could pump as much as $400 million into state schools.
Bibb County school board member Tom Hudson said he likes the idea, adding that just because a teacher has an advanced degree doesn’t mean he or she is an effective teacher.
“I’m very much in favor of incentives for teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty,” Hudson said.
Meanwhile, increased funding for mental health and disability issues could be big news for Central State Hospital in Milledgeville and other state facilities. The entire system is under federal review after a series of suspicious deaths in state hospitals, and the state has overhauled its programs to the point of creating an entire new department to oversee them.
Now the money will come to fund upgrades, and Perdue said the increases will be stark, particularly compared to the cuts planned in other parts of the budget this year. Perdue said it will be “a huge statement,” but he didn’t get into the numbers.
State Sen. Johnny Grant, R-Milledgeville, said he’s discussed the plans with the governor and that he expects more funding for state hospitals, as well as the community programs that the state has been working to transition patients into.
The funding could help relieve crowding at local jails nearly overrun by people needing mental treatment, and it would be good news for Baldwin County, which has been hit hard by state budget cuts, Grant said.
Perdue told reporters that the mental health funding would “probably be the only budget news you’ll get out of me this week,” signaling that the final state-of-the-state speech of his two terms in office, scheduled for this morning, will not focus on the budget.
That document may remain a work in progress as Perdue’s administration works to balance the budget in the face of still declining revenues and little appetite for tax increases at the Capitol.
Medley of other subjects
Here are other topics Perdue hit on during his speech:
— Water negotiations with Alabama and Florida are going well, Perdue said. In fact, the governor said a sharing agreement may be ready before the current legislative session ends, which is a more optimistic timetable than many people thought possible.
If the agreement takes longer, Perdue said he’d be willing to call a special session this fall to get the Legislature to sign off on a negotiated agreement.
A federal judge has given metro Atlanta three years to hammer out an agreement, or it will face draconian cuts to its water supply from Lake Lanier.
— Perdue, like many Republican leaders, remains unimpressed by Congress’ efforts to reform health care. In response, he proposed allowing insurance policy sales across state lines. “The restriction on interstate commerce, frankly, has never made sense to me,” he said.
— The governor said he’ll take another crack at implementing a statewide ethics and governance policy for school systems, an effort that failed last year.
His proposal would standardize school board ethics and training policies, create new minimum qualifications for board candidates and, most notably, allow the state to appoint a new school board when elected ones fail.
These steps are a response to the Clayton County school system’s loss of accreditation, and the more recent announcement that Warren County will lose its accreditation.
— Transportation funding continues to be a major topic, particularly in the metro Atlanta business community, where many people believe gridlock is limiting economic development.
The governor said that, since the Legislature changed the Department of Transportation’s planning process last year, it’s now time to talk about new funding.
Many in the Legislature have been working on a new transportation sales tax that would allow local governments to band together and collect an extra penny for roads and other projects.
State Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, who has been heavily involved in those negotiations, said the governor’s office is weighing in on that process, but Perdue wouldn’t tip his hand Tuesday. He simply said the time is right for new funding and that “with apologies to Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that today. Stay tuned.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has repeatedly endorsed the regional sales tax concept, did so again in his own remarks Monday. But he called the proposal “just one tool” and said that “looking at toll roads and other revenue sources are going to be very critical.”
Staff writer Julie Hubbard contributed to this report.
To contact writer Travis Fain, call 361-2702.