State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge spoke with local residents at the Toccoa-Stephens County Airport on Saturday afternoon.
Barge, a Republican, said he will challenge Deal for the party’s nomination for Governor.
He said he feels there is too much politics in state government and not enough governing going on.
“I personally do not think that incumbency is a free pass to a second term,” said Barge. “I think that you need to earn a second term. I do not think the focus is in the right place. I do not think our priorities are in the right place.”
Barge said his priority is making sure the state provides the best education it can for Georgia’s children.
“We have withheld way too much money from our public school system,” said Barge. “That has led to the point where 2/3 of our schools are not in school the minimum 180 days a year. That is not good for our kids. It is not good for our teachers to be furloughed. It is not good for teachers to lose their jobs.”
He said that is also not good for the economy.
“What business wants to locate in an area where the school has cut their calendar by 10 or 15 or 20 days a year?” asked Barge.
Barge said that while the budget situation remains tight, the state’s revenues have gone up and he feels that there is some money there to go towards restoring education cuts.
In addition, he said there are state agencies that are duplicating the work of other agencies that could be streamlined.
Barge also said the state should look at the tax money it gives away to businesses in order to bring them here.
“That is important, but I think if you adequately get your education system funded, you can market education as part of the package to business and industry, so that you have a proper balance of tax incentives and education,” said Barge.
Barge said that while there are other issues the state must deal with, he says many of them relate directly to education.
“Economic development is inextricably linked to education,” said Barge. “You are not going have sustained economic development unless you have a quality education system that can provide an educated and skilled workforce.”
He also pointed to crime as another education-related issue.
“Research is pretty clear,” said Barge. “If you do not get a high school diploma, there is about an 80 percent chance you will end up in prison.”
Following his appearance at the airport, Barge went downtown to spend time at the Toccoa Christmas parade.