Miller's 1st-Session Success Impresses Ga. Educators
Zell Miller has wrapped up his first legislative session as Governor of Georgia with what state educators said last week was an impressive list of accomplishments in such areas as school governance, teacher licensure, and a new funding source for education.
A veteran politician who had served as lieutenant governor for 16 years before being elected governor last fall, Mr. Miller made his mark despite being saddled with a tight fiscal situation that gave him little new money to spend.
The Governor also won passage of his chief campaign proposal--a constitutional amendment creating a state lottery to fund education.
"If his first session--which cranked up about a week after he took office--is indicative of what we're in for the next four years, we'll all be running real hard to stay on top of issues, and we're delighted," said Kay Pippin, director of government relations for the Georgia Association of Educators.
Spokesmen for the Department of Public Instruction and several state education organizations said they viewed the proposed abolition of the state's system of electing school superintendents as the most significant bill approved by lawmakers.
The constitutional amendment, which will be placed before voters in November 1992, proposes to make all Georgia school boards elective bodies that would in turn appoint school superintendents.
In 109 of the state's 184 school districts, school chiefs are elected by popular vote. In many of those districts, school boards are appointed by grand juries or city councils.
Getting the Best Person
The Governor sought a change in the century-old system because he believes that "when you have an elected superintendent, you can't always get the best person" for the job, said his senior executive assistant, Steve W. Wrigley.
Because most Georgia voters live in urban and suburban districts that already have appointed superintendents, backers say, the measure has a strong chance of approval.
Even so, support for elected superintendents remains strong in rural areas, and efforts to abolish the practice in other Southern states in recent years have been unsuccessful. (See Education Week, March 29, 1989.)
The Georgia School Boards Association, which backed the change, does not expect it to win a majority of voters without significant help from the Governor, noted Gary Ashley, the group's executive vice president.
Another significant measure that also did not carry a steep price tag was the creation of an autonomous Professional Standards Commission to handle teacher licensure. (See Education Week, March 13, 1991.)
During his campaign, Mr. Miller complained frequently about what he called overly restrictive rules that barred qualified people from entering the teaching profession. The new commission is specifically charged with streamlining the licensing process.
The lottery measure passed by the General Assembly will put a proposed constitutional amendment to create a lottery before voters in 1992.
The legislation provides that money generated by the lottery will go into its own budget category, rather than the state general fund. The goal is to ensure that the lottery does not supplant traditional revenue sources for education, according to Mr. Wrigley.
Mr. Miller has vowed to put the $250 million a year he estimates the lottery would generate into new education programs.
During the gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Wrigley noted, polls showed 70 percent of Georgians favoring a lottery for education.
Reduction in Testing
One of the more controversial measures approved by the legislature calls for reducing the number of standardized tests that are given to Georgia students each year.
The Governor's proposal for "fewer but tougher tests" passed the Senate. It was amended in the House, however, to reflect concerns voiced by educators and parents that Mr. Miller's original plan would have provided only information about how schools, districts, and the state were faring--not individual students.
The amended bill reduces from nine to four the number of grades in which testing will be required. Students in grades 3, 5, and 8 will be given tests that will measure their performance against the state curriculum and against national norm-referenced tests.
In grade 11, students will be required to take a new high-school exit examination that will be broadened from the current basic-skills test to include questions about science and social studies.
Jack Acree, executive vice president of the 25,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators, hailed the changes in testing as ''a great improvement."
"The main thing is that the teachers have been devoting entirely too much of their time to getting ready for testing," Mr. Acree said, "and don't tell me teachers don't teach to the test, because I know better."
The Governor was less successful in promoting "post secondary option'' legislation, which would allow Continued on Page 22
Governor's First-Session Success
Impresses Educators in Georgia
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high-school juniors and seniors to continue their educations at junior colleges, community colleges, or vocational schools at state expense. The bill, which was opposed by the g.a.e., passed the Senate but has been held over in a House committee until next year's session.
No Teacher Raises
The tight fiscal situation facing the state was reflected in its $2.88-billion education budget 3, which includes just $58 million more than the state spent this year.
For the first time, according to the g.a.e., Georgia teachers will not receive across-the-board raises.
Of the state's 77,000 teachers, 45,000 will receive 3 percent increases for advancing on the state salary schedule. Of those who will not, 20,000 are veteran teachers with more than 17 years' experience, who have moved as far as they can on the schedule.
Both the g.a.e.--the state's largest teachers' association and an affiliate of the National Education Association--and the independent p.a.g.e. said they will lobby to have additional steps added to the schedule.
Despite the meager gains for teachers, Mr. Acree said his association is pleased with the emphasis on funding programs for at-risk children contained in the Governor's budget.
The budget includes, for example: $3 million for prekindergarten programs for at-risk children in 60 locations around the state; $8.9 million for counselors in middle and elementary schools; and $7.6 million to implement a program for handicapped 3- and 4-year-olds.
The Governor also has formed a task force to examine the issue of paying teachers based on performance.