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The Early Political Education of Richard Woods



The path for Richard Woods to become Georgia’s new state schools superintendent opened after his predecessor committed political suicide. John Barge might still have the top education office if he had not alienated Governor Nathan Deal, made fellow Republicans furious and simultaneously angered thousands of school choice families.

Barge broke with Deal in August, 2012 when he said he would not support a constitutional amendment to recreate the state’s charter schools commission. Barge aligned himself with the traditional education establishment that dislikes charters and especially alternate authorization.

Suddenly an outsider among Republicans and ignored by the Governor’s Office, Barge made the decision to announce he would leave the Superintendent’s office after one term to challenge Deal in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary; thus ended John Barge’s career, at least that phase of it.

Woods appears to have noticed how that played out. This was obvious when Woods delivered opening remarks at the Georgia Charter Schools Association leadership conference. A surprise guest, Governor Deal, made an early morning decision to attend with First Lady Sandra Deal.

“I am a friend of charter school K-12 innovation,” Woods told educators who packed the Busbee Center Auditorium last Friday morning at Gwinnett Technical College. “People will get to know me and I will get to know you but I guarantee you this, you will have no stronger advocate, no stronger person that will support and sing the praises of the work that you do.

“I will work to make sure you have the funding, the personnel and the resources you need to reach every child that comes through your door,” Woods said during an eight-minute address. He concluded, “Across the state we want to make sure we allow teachers to do the one thing they want to do, that is, close your door and teach and reach their child.”

Barge became Superintendent when Republicans swept the state’s top executive offices in November 2010. He was viewed as being a supportive player in summer 2011 when Barge worked to help keep 17 charter schools open for 16,000 students after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled a state charter schools commission that was established in 2008 was unconstitutional.

One year later his decision to oppose a charter schools commission constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot aligned Barge with local boards of education and superintendents. The amendment passed with 58 percent. Barge chose to stand side-by-side with a bureaucracy that could not save him from political extinction.

The next few years will be exciting and challenging. Deal wants to create an Opportunity School District that would allow the state to take custody of failing schools. His new Education Reform Commission will propose long overdue changes to public schools funding. Supporters will advocate for creation of education savings accounts and expansion of tax credit scholarships.

Woods talks about wanting to cultivate “good press” to replace the “bad stories” about Georgia public education. His chances for success will be greatly enhanced by recognition of who makes and who implements policy. Georgia is a school choice leader. John Barge possibly would still be there if he had made a different decision. Richard Woods seems to already understand that.

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia public education since 2010.  He has held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

RICHARD WOODS Georgia State Schools Superintendent (Georgia Charter Schools Association Photo)

Georgia State Schools Superintendent
(Georgia Charter Schools Association Photo)

February 4, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Broken Families … Parents Without Skills … Kids in Juvenile Justice

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

One of the primary architects of the special council recommendations that became the basis for this year’s juvenile justice reform legislation says the primary reason that thousands of juveniles enter the legal system each year is because they come from dysfunctional families.

“Most of the kids we’re seeing today in most courts are kids in which we have broken families, most of them have single parents, most of those are mothers and there are poor or very weak problem solving skills, not just among the young people but also their parents,” Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske told the Georgia Public Policy Foundation this week.

Last year Governor Nathan Deal added Teske to the reconstituted Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform to capitalize on his expertise. On Thursday, Deal said Teske “is regarded by many people as the true expert on juvenile justice matters” when the Governor was in Dalton to sign HB 242, this year’s massive juvenile justice and civil code rewrite legislation.

”We are seeing more and more parents coming into court saying, I cannot handle my child anymore, I want you to take my child, I want you to do something with my child,” Teske said during an interview after the legislation signing ceremony.  “I’ve had some parents … too many parents … demand that I lock their kid up, demand that I commit them to the state.”

Teske has served in the Clayton County juvenile courts since 1999.  He is past president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and a frequent national speaker on this subject. Teske said Clayton County has reduced juvenile detention commitments 43 percent over ten years but more than half who enter juvenile detention are there because of family dysfunction.

“We are having a lot of low risk kids who have very high needs because of family dysfunction going into these (youth detention centers) with razor wire fences,” Teske said.  “They don’t belong here.  We’re making them worse, resulting in a 65 percent recidivism rate when they get out.”  (Click here to watch my interview with Judge Teske on YouTube.)

Governor Deal’s signature Thursday morning on HB 242 continues a sweeping review that has seen the state literally change its adult and juvenile corrections course in two years.  Georgia has traditionally been a hard-on-crime state that emphasized locking people up, mixing hard-core and soft-core inmate populations and giving little thought to successful community re-entry. (Click here to watch the Governor’s remarks on YouTube.)

These criminal justice philosophies were consistent with tough-on-crime standards that became dominant nationally in the 1980’s and 1990’s as politicians responded to what they viewed as the desire of their communities to put criminals away as quickly as possible for as long as possible.  What that trend did not recognize was that mental illness, substance abuse and other factors meant this one-size-fits-all approach really did not fit at all.

Therefore, it was not surprising when refined data analysis began to show that adults released from prisons and youths released from detention were coming back at alarming rates.  Here in Georgia, the rate was one-in-three adults re-incarcerated within three years and the numbers were even worse for juveniles, one-in-two were re-adjudicated of a juvenile offense or charged with an adult crime within three years.

“If you have one-out-of-three adult offenders return to your prison system within three years you can’t say you are keeping society safe nor (can you say) that you are spending and saving the money of the taxpayers,” Deal said on Thursday in Dalton.  The cost to incarcerate one adult inmate is $18,000 per year and much higher in the juvenile sector, about $90,000 per year.

Twenty-eight months after Deal’s inauguration, the state now has in place adult and juvenile justice policies that emphasize incarceration for serious and violent offenders and a range of alternative treatment options for non-violent persons, especially those who have mental illness or substance abuse challenges.  In addition, the state is more focused on veterans’ courts.

Overall, the state predicts adult and juvenile justice reforms will save taxpayers $349 million over five years — $264 million in the adult sector and the remainder in juvenile justice.  Deal also said Thursday that implementing community-based alternative treatment programs will mean the state should not need to build two new juvenile detention centers.

The next fiscal year budget that kicks in on July 1 includes $5 million in state dollars to help communities start voluntary alternative treatment programs for juveniles.  “If we can save money on one end it will allow us to use the money on the front end,” Deal said.  He targeted substance abuse and family counseling programs as priorities.  “We believe by doing that we can save them early in the process and not have them move into the arena as an adult offender.”

Another feature of this year’s Georgia reforms include a relaxation of adult minimum mandatory sentencing in limited circumstances where judges are given sentencing discretion in some very specific cases, or where judge, prosecutors and defense counsel are in agreement.  Deal said it makes sense for the state to avoid imposing “undue and long punishments for folks where the facts certainly don’t justify the mandatory minimum.”

The criminal justice system review that has been underway through the Deal administration will continue long after his tenure as Governor concludes.  HB 349 signed last week by Deal creates a new criminal justice council that will remain in place until June 2023.   The names of its 15 new members have not been announced by the Governor’s Office.

Clayton County’s Judge Teske also told the Public Policy Foundation he thinks the state should examine the data concerning the number of juveniles who are originally charged in adult courts, but whose cases are transferred to juvenile courts for eventual disposition.  “We could save more money and get help to these kids sooner in juvenile court,” Teske said.  “I would like to see us start asking these questions as far as continued reforms.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

May 3, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Digital Learning, Re-Entry Lead List of Criminal Justice Priorities

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgia’s next justice reform priorities will include expanded digital learning in juvenile sectors and increased focus on transitioning paroled adult inmates back into society with more than a few bucks and a bus ticket.  Governor Nathan Deal discussed these priorities during an Atlanta speech on Tuesday, two days before he is scheduled to sign juvenile justice reform legislation.

Deal said the state will partner with Provost Academy Georgia to provide digital learning resources to juveniles, starting with some 140 who participate in the Georgia National Guard Youth Challenge programs at Fort Gordon near Augusta and Fort Stewart in Hinesville.

“These are young men and women who are on the verge of being sent into our juvenile detention system,” Deal said during prepared remarks at the Capital City Club in Atlanta.  “We are entering into an agreement with a digital based charter school, Provost, and they are going to be providing the opportunity for these young people to earn a regular high school diploma.” (Click here to watch on YouTube)

Currently, most Youth Challenge juveniles can work toward earning a GED certificate, but not a real high school diploma.  Deal predicted the Provost Academy model could be incorporated into the more traditional juvenile justice system which at any point has 22,000 youth either in detention or assigned to a community-based program.

“Young people who have been in trouble have a great deal of difficulty returning to the school which they left before they got in trouble,” Deal told the Atlanta Press Club audience.  “All of the social stigma that is associated with it is a huge deterrent for them to just simply drop out.

“If they can take that digital learning opportunity with them back home and they can continue their education without having to physically go back to the school where they have the bad reputation … the chance that they will get a high school diploma and be able to move on with their lives is much greater and we think that is the right thing to do,” the Governor said.

Provost Academy Georgia opened last August with 134 students.  Today it serves 1,276 high school students in distance learning structured for independent instruction or blended learning that provides an option to include face-to-face instruction.  Provost also operates Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Centers in Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with an Augusta site scheduled to open this month.  Provost programs are associated with Edison Learning.

Under the proposed plan, Provost Academy’s initial pilot program will enroll 70 Youth Challenge cadets apiece at Fort Gordon and Fort Stewart, starting in late July, said Provost executive director Monica Henson.  “Governor Deal is committed to extending opportunities to needy kids and these are the neediest of the needy,” Henson said.  “We really appreciate this opportunity because our mission is to serve historically underserved populations.”

On Thursday, Governor Deal is expected to sign HB 242 that emphasizes incarceration for serious juvenile offenders and less expensive community-based resources for non-violent offenders who are not a public safety risk.  These alternative treatment concepts are based on the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations. The bill also includes a massive overhaul of the state’s juvenile civil code.  Click here to learn more about juvenile justice reform legislation.

Adult and juvenile justice reforms have been central targets for Deal since his inauguration.  The 2011 Legislature established the Special Council whose members produced the 2012 adult laws rewrite and now the 2013 juvenile laws rewrite.  For Deal, the finished and proposed work is a recognition that Georgia was at least spinning its wheels, if not going backward.

“We have been a state like many states that had been the hard-on crime approach with very little flexibility built into the system,” Deal said in his Atlanta speech.  “We recognized if you were objective about the issue that we were not achieving the results that people expected.”

Specifically, one-in-three paroled adults and one-in-two released juveniles return to the criminal or juvenile justice system within three years.  “What we were doing was not the right thing,” Deal said.  “It did not keep us safe and it did not save taxpayers money.  We were spending over $1 billion a year in our corrections programs and yet, nobody could be proud of those results.”

(Click here to learn more about justice reform on the Pew Charitable Trusts website.  Click here for the Right on Crime website at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.) 

May 1, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Juvenile Justice Bill Would Revise Designated Felony Act

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Georgians will need a comfy couch, lots of time and perhaps some caffeine when they begin to read newly introduced juvenile justice and civil code legislation.  Juvenile justice provisions in House Bill 242 include a proposal to completely revise the state’s 32-year-old juvenile designated felony act, a long overdue step forward, by creating two classes of more and less serious juvenile felony crimes.

Juvenile civil code revisions would update laws that govern how juvenile courts operate and the rights of minors in custody and other situations.  The legislation is a comfy couch read at 244 pages.  The juvenile justice sections closely follow the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations, which were released in December.  Civil code updates, many years in progress, originated in HB 641 last year.

“We are light years from where we started from a political and a moral perspective in how we deal with criminal justice in this state for adults and juveniles,” said Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who served as co-chair of the 2012 Special Council initiative.  “We have become smarter in the way we address the enormous cost and the horrible return on investment that our taxpayers are receiving.”

Last year the General Assembly enacted adult corrections system reforms that are now being implemented statewide. This year lawmakers will focus on how to fund more juvenile program resources in local communities, reduce juvenile inmate populations, address mental health and substance abuse treatment challenges, reduce recidivism, and keep a lid on escalating costs.

Georgia’s 1981-version of the juvenile Designated Felony Act included fewer than one dozen crimes, the worst crimes committed by the scariest youth.  Over more than three decades the Act was steadily expanded.  What you have today is a Felony Act that treats accused juvenile murderers about the same as juveniles accused of smash and grab burglaries.  Both are felony crimes.

HB 242 proposes to create a more serious “Class A” and less serious “Class B” structure that would give juvenile court judges greater latitude than they have today, especially in sentencing.  Accused murderers and burglars would no longer be treated alike.  The legislation is extremely detailed with specific crimes that would be considered more or less serious felonies.

If the bill is enacted as introduced, HB 242 would also prohibit the incarceration of status offenders and most juveniles adjudicated for misdemeanor crimes in secure facilities. Other provisions in the bill include focusing the state’s resources on programs proven to reduce recidivism, requiring the use of risk assessment tools, and mandating uniform data collection.

Governor Nathan Deal’s Budget Report also includes an additional recommendation from the Special Council – to create a performance incentive structure to reward jurisdictions with state funds when juvenile courts assign juveniles to community programs rather than incarcerate them in state facilities.  These additional state funds will then be used to create programs in the community to treat juveniles locally.

“This is a very positive step,” said House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, lead sponsor of HB 242.  Governor Deal set aside $5 million in next year’s budget to expand community programs and jump-start new ones.  Some 65 percent of juveniles who do time in secure state facilities are found guilty of a new crime within three years of their release. Willard said the state must try new ways to avoid creating “lifetime criminals.  I think you will see a major savings in childrens’ lives.”

National studies including research compiled for Georgia by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project show that placement in out-of-home facilities does not lower the likelihood of juvenile reoffending and may in fact increase the likelihood of committing a new crime for some offenders.  In fact, lock-ups sometimes produce a more sophisticated offender. This is more acute when youth require mental or substance abuse care.

Legislation proposes that youth adjudicated for a misdemeanor crime could not be sent to state confinement facilities.  They would become candidates for community treatment programs.  By enacting the recommendations of the Special Council, Georgia could reduce its juvenile inmate population by one-third to about 1,200, reinvest savings into local programs and save nearly $85 million over five years.  The result would be lower costs and reduced recidivism – significant improvements for Georgia taxpayers.

Georgia’s juvenile code is considered antiquated, dating back to the early 1970s and subsequently patched over and re-patched many times.  HB 242 would update current laws on dependency proceedings, family reunification, disposition of dependent children, mental health and other care for children in need of services, the emancipation of minors and more.

“We can do a better job of service to these children,” Willard said.

House Judiciary will hold a full committee hearing Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol.  A small number of adult system reforms proposed by the Special Council in its 2012 report will be contained in separate legislation expected next week.  Legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Deal would become law on July 1.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)

February 11, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal Pushes Medicaid Fix; Proposes $19.8B Budget

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a $19.864 billion state dollars budget for the new fiscal year that starts in July, up about 2.7 percent from this year’s $19.341 billion budget.  The Fiscal 2014 proposed budget was released on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget website while Deal delivered his State of the State address at the Capitol.

Total state spending next year would be about $40.837 billion with the other $21 billion being anticipated federal funding.  The trend line here continues to be fiscal savings and a big emphasis on health care cost strategy.  Nearly all state agencies were asked to cut their next year budgets by 3 percent and some by higher percentages.

Governor Deal devoted the bulk of his address to four policy areas – public safety, education, health care and economic development – but he ended with comments on ethics, stating, “If there is to be an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, it should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels.”  The state Senate has passed one ethics bill and the House is expected to have a bill.  However, Deal’s statement was significant in that he said ethics state law should apply to local officials.

Medicaid costs again dominated his health care comments. The Governor urged passage of his legislation that would authorize the state Department of Community Health board to continue that hospital provider fee that would otherwise sunset this June.  “Unless this is done, there will be a shortfall in revenue to support the Medicaid program of nearly $700 million,” Deal said.

The so-called temporary fix to Medicaid expense was imposed by the 2010 General Assembly.  Deal’s bill would transfer responsibility for continuing that fee to DCH board members, giving legislators a free pass.  The fee would raise about $241 million next year, according to the Governor’s proposed budget.  The Senate passed the bill 46 – 9 later Thursday; the legislation now travels across the Capitol to the House.

2013 State of the State Address(Photo Courtesy Alana Joyner, Office of the Governor)

2013 State of the State Address
(Photo Courtesy Alana Joyner, Office of the Governor)

“Since we cannot adjust benefits, the reduction in reimbursements to hospitals would be the only way to keep the program solvent,” Deal told legislators.  “These reductions would be approximately 20 percent, which would seriously jeopardize many of our state’s hospitals.”  On Wednesday Deal said perhaps 12-to-14 hospitals would close if the fee is allowed to sunset.

The Governor’s address created no significant new policy sectors.  Deal recognized “times have been tough” economically but he vowed, “I will not lead our state with a Doomsday mindset.”  His proposed budget includes spending cuts of at least 3 percent for nearly all state agencies except K-12 public education.  Selected state agencies begin three days of public budget hearings next Tuesday.

“Just as Georgia is too big and too important to fall prey to Doomsayers’ pessimism, it is also too big and too important to be divided by race, geography or ideology,” Deal said.  “This year let’s concentrate on the things on which we can all agree.”

Three education announcements should encourage families:  The Pre-K school year would be restored to 180 days, a 10-day increase over this year’s funding level, in the governor’s budget and Deal proposed a 3 percent funding increase to $600 million for the HOPE program.  One year ago there were projections that HOPE was on a financial slide to insolvency.  And, $147.3 million will be added to the K-12 education budget for enrollment growth and teacher training.

The governor said the state’s 28-year-old public education funding formula “does not meet the needs of a Twenty First century classroom,” and he added, “Georgia has had too many school boards under the sanctions of potential loss of accreditation.”  Deal said reasons why school systems lose accreditation must be addressed by state legislation.  “Poor outcomes are most often not the result of lack of money, but lack of vision and leadership,” the governor said.

2013 State of the State Address(Photo Courtesy Alana Joyner, Office of the Governor)

2013 State of the State Address
(Photo Courtesy Alana Joyner, Office of the Governor)

Deal encouraged legislators to build on last year’s unanimous passage of adult corrections reforms and to adopt juvenile system reforms that would reduce incarceration expenses for non-violent youthful offenders.  The state spends $300 million per year on juvenile justice.  “Just as with last year, we stand to lower recidivism and save taxpayer dollars,” Deal said.

The governor said state economic development initiatives have produced 10,000 new jobs since his last State of the State address.  He also said state per capita spending is down 17 percent within the last decade and state government now employs 9,000 fewer people than five years ago.  “We have reduced the burden on Georgia taxpayers,” Deal said.

Deal said the  state “rainy day fund” now has $378 million in cash reserves, which is a 226 percent improvement since Deal took office, and that has enabled Georgia to retain its Triple AAA bond rating.  However the balance is well below pre-recession levels of about $1.6 billion.

The Governor proposed stronger DUI alcohol laws for boaters to bring them into line with drunk driving laws and mandatory life jackets for all persons 13 years old or younger who are riding in a boat or using a personal watercraft.  Currently there is a great deal of national emphasis on gun control and public school safety, but Deal did not address either topic in his remarks.

Additional highlights from Governor Deal’s proposed budget:

  • Increase basic K-12 education funding by more than $156 million.
  • Increase Pre-K early care and learning funding by $12.9 million to $312 million.
  • Increase K-12 equalization grants by $41 million for the poorest school districts.
  • Increase university system funding by $84.6 million to fund growth.
  • Increase university and technical college system capital investments by $247 million.
  • Increase state funding by $50 million to $231 million for the Port of Savannah project.
  • Increase state funding by $2 million to train health care career professionals.
  • Commit $69.8 million to fully fund the state share of teacher retirement system.
  • Commit $60 million to fund new transportation projects in FY 2013 and FY 2014.
  • As promised earlier, end the user tolls paid by drivers on Georgia Route 400.
  • Proposed $25.2 million in bond sales for water supply projects.
  • Proposed $15 million in bond sales for Georgia World Congress Center upgrades.
  • Proposed $26.5 million in bond sales for state parks and lands improvements.

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal at Eggs: No Such Thing as “Free Health Care”

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal said the state Department of Community Health has been told to reduce its amended current fiscal year budget by 3 percent and then find 5 percent more in new cuts next year to help the state absorb Medicaid costs that continue to escalate.  The state faces a Medicaid deficit that will approach $800 million during the next 18 months of its fiscal cycle.

Deal devoted nearly his entire speech to health care when he addressed the Georgia Chamber of Commerce annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast Wednesday at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.   The Governor also suggested folks who cannot attend Thursday morning’s State of the State address should monitor his “Tweeter” account.  Deal will announce his budget during the speech, scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the State Capitol.

“Georgians who have already received a paycheck this January have no doubt noticed that their payroll taxes went up and their take-home salary went down,” Deal said.  “This is the cost of entitlements.  If you think your taxes went up a lot this month, just wait till we hve to pay for ‘free health care.’  Free never cost so much.”

The push is on to quickly approve a Medicaid funding fix bill proposed by the Governor with an initial Senate floor vote perhaps this week.  Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston echoed their support for the governor’s bill that would give the Community Health board the authority to continue the hospital provider fee that would otherwise sunset in June.

The fee paid by all Georgia hospitals based on annual revenue is used to draw down federal dollars that are redistributed to hospitals that serve Medicaid patients.  The General Assembly enacted the fee three years ago to address a rapidly developing shortage in Medicaid funds caused by increased demand for services.  Deal said 12-to-14 hospitals would face closure if the provider fee is not continued.  DCH imposes a similar nursing home industry fee.

Governor Nathan Deal

Governor Nathan Deal

“In fact, we are one of 47 states that have either a nursing home or hospital provider fee or both,” Deal said.  The governor said “it makes sense to me” that DCH should have authority over both fees “for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.”  The move also means that state lawmakers would be spared having to vote to continue an expiring fee or impose a new one.

Deal said DCH has identified $109 million in cost-savings. “But this hardly covers the additional nearly $500 million in needed funds caused by growth in Medicaid expenses during the same time frame,” Deal said.  “This means we must make necessary cuts in other agencies and core functions of government since raising taxes is not an option I will accept!”

The governor is no fan or friend to the federal health care reform law known as Obamacare.

During the past several months the Deal administration said it will not expand Medicaid eligibility starting in 2014 because the state cannot afford more than $2.5 billion that it currently spends annually on Medicaid.  The federal government pays about $5 billion annually. Georgia anticipates its share of Medicaid costs will increase at least $1.7 billion over the next ten years.

Deal said the federal health care reform law will add $106 million to the cost of state-provided health care benefits for active and retired employees starting in 2014.  He also said Georgia will be assessed a new $35 million insurance tax starting in 2015.  About 13 percent of all state budget dollars currently pay for Medicaid or the state children’s health insurance programs.

“The irony to me is that there are those in the medical community who are urging the expansion of the Medicaid program while at the same time, they are seeing more and more medical providers refusing to accept Medicaid patients,” Deal said.  “If you are losing money now how do you reconcile the number of patients on whom you will lose even more money.”

Georgia also said it will not create a state health insurance exchange, as envisioned in the federal health care reform law.  “I see no benefit to our citizens to have a program bearing the name of the State of Georgia over which our elected or appointed officials have little if any say so,” Deal said.  “While many federal programs come with strings attached, these strings turn states into marionettes to be manipulated by federal bureaucrats.”

As for “Tweeter,” the Governor noted, “My staff tells me that I am really getting into the modern age.   You can go to my Tweeter account!” for updates on the State of the State address.  The address will be carried live on General Assembly and Georgia Public Broadcasting websites. GPTV will broadcast the State of the State address and the Democratic leadership response in their entirety at 7:00 p.m. on the legislative program “Lawmakers.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal: Major Health Policy Decisions “In a Holding Pattern “

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal expressed displeasure with the U.S. Supreme Court decision on federal health care reform during a Thursday afternoon news conference, describing it as “the largest tax increase in the history of the United States, at least $500 billion and perhaps significantly more.”  The Governor also admitted he was surprised by the decision because he thought the Court had given “pretty strong signals” that it had problems with the individual mandate.

The Governor appeared alone when he spoke to reporters and a large crowd that assembled in mid-afternoon inside the State Capitol.  Deal said the state will likely hold off making decisions on several questions until after the November national elections.  Presumptive Republican Party Presidential nominee Mitt Romney has vowed to dismantle the health care law if he is elected.

Deal said Thursday morning’s Supreme Court’s decision does appear to leave states with some flexibility, in particular, whether they will be forced to expand their Medicaid eligible populations.  “There was at least an area of indication that it was not an absolute mandate,” Deal said.  “The discretion for a state to participate in the expansion of Medicaid was a door that was left open.  The Court has said that would have been an unconstitutional mandate on states.”  (Click here to watch Governor Deal’s news conference on YouTube.)

Georgia estimates its Medicaid eligible population would increase by 620,000 in 2014 based on requirements in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  On Thursday, Governor Deal said that increase would cost $76.3 million additional state dollars in 2014, and it would result in 24.2 percent of all Georgians being Medicaid eligible.  The current number is 17.6 percent.

Governor Nathan Deal

“As you know, the original legislation (said) that if you did not accept the mandate for expanding the Medicaid coverage up to, in our case 138 percent of the federal poverty level, that you would have lost your federal participation in your existing Medicaid program,” Deal said.  “The Court has ruled that leverage and that coercion was not appropriate.”

Because the law was upheld, Georgia faces a mid-November decision about whether it will create some version of a state health insurance exchange or default to a federal exchange.  Deal said that decision also will likely not be made before the November election.  “We probably are going to be in a holding pattern until we see what the events of November bring us,” he said.

A special committee that considered health insurance exchange models last fall reported to the Governor that while it preferred no exchange, a Georgia created exchange would be preferable to one imposed by the federal government.  The Georgia model could be a state-operated exchange or, the committee recommended, a largely private model with some state oversight.

Responding to a question from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Governor Deal acknowledged that a regional, multi-state health insurance exchange “is an idea worth exploring.”  The Governor noted, however, that the state passed a law that would allow insurance companies licensed by other states to offer policies in Georgia but, “No company has taken us up on that offer.”

Governor Deal said decisions that need to be made this year – in particular, whether to expand Medicaid eligibility and what kind of exchange to create – should not require a Special Session of the Georgia General Assembly.  However, he thinks one might be necessary next year.

“We’re probably going to be finished with our 2014 budget before we know the answers to those questions that only Congress and the White House can provide,” the Governor said.  The 2013 General Assembly will likely conclude in late March or April, possibly well before Washington has given clear guidelines to states if there is a new administration.  Deal said that could require bringing lawmakers back to Atlanta.  “I will do everything in my power to avoid that,” he said.

The Governor opposed and fought against President Barack Obama’s federal health care reform law during the last of his nine terms as a congressman from Georgia.  “I was surprised by the decision,” Deal admitted.  “I honestly felt that the issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate was one that the Court had given pretty strong signals that they had problems with.

“It is somewhat ironic to me that it is now constitutional not because it is a proper exercise of the power of federal government under the commerce clause but that it is appropriate only because of the federal exercise of taxation authority over the states and over its citizens.  That’s why I said, if we really want to know what the largest tax increase is, we have just now been given that opinion by the Supreme Court.  It is this piece of legislation that, ironically, is called the Affordability Act.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medicaid Dominated when Governor’s Policy Advisors Took Questions

Mike Klein

Medicaid is a beast.  About one-in-five Georgians receives Medicaid health care.  That is 1.7 million people.  Fifty-nine percent of statewide births are Medicaid babies.  Another couple hundred thousand children are enrolled in PeachCare, the state children’s health insurance program.   Medicaid could grow by hundreds of thousands more if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal health care reform law in its decision expected next month.

Not at all surprisingly, Medicaid redesign questions were abundant when three of Governor Nathan Deal’s advisors met with Georgia Children’s Advocacy Network members at the Freight Depot in Atlanta.  The advisors made no presentations and took questions for 90 minutes.

Health policy advisor Katie Rogers named telehealth reimbursement policies, portable electronic records, better outcomes for vulnerable children, physician shortages in some specialties, how to manage health care in counties that are medically underserved and treatment options for chronic childhood illnesses as part of the wide-ranging Medicaid redesign conversation.

Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on constitutionality of the 2010 federal health care reform law.  If upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provisions often known as ObamaCare could add 620,000 new Medicaid patients to the state program.  Rogers predicted, “People who haven’t had access to services are going to seek services probably very quickly.”

Georgia Medicaid cost $7.78 billion in fiscal year 2010, according to Kaiser State Health Facts.  Federal funds pay 66% and the state is responsible for the rest, about $2.7 billion.  Georgia Medicaid program redesign is being managed by the Department of Community Health with private partner assistance from Navigant. The project is described in a comprehensive design strategy report available on the DCH Medicaid website.

This project is so important to Georgia’s health care community that it is being closely monitored by many organizations outside government.  Cindy Zeldin is executive director at Georgians for a Healthy Future which advocates for improved statewide access to quality health care.

“The three buckets when we look at improving Medicaid would be one, just coverage, getting kids who are eligible but who are not enrolled today into the program so they at least have that front door access,” Zeldin told the Public Policy Foundation this week.

“Second, improving access to care, just making sure there is a mechanism to make sure that being in Medicaid means you can see a provider if you need to,” Zeldin said.  For instance, the state has no OB-GYN practitioners in 39 counties, which is an impediment to women’s health.

“Third would be improving outcomes and accountability, what you are asking managed care companies to report on and making sure you are measuring outcomes that ensure quality care.”

The Supreme Court opinion expected next month will also decide whether Georgia must create a health insurance exchange.  Last December a state report to Governor Deal said a private or quasi-governmental exchange would be preferable to one imposed by the federal government, but Georgia would prefer that it is not required to create any exchange.  Georgia opposes the federal health care reform law and it joined the suit that challenges the constitutionality.

“If the law is upheld as it stands now we will work very quickly to implement a state exchange,” Rogers said.  “If the law is not upheld the discussion will begin again on whether or not to move forward with a state exchange.  Part of the concern is without the individual mandate would people want to buy insurance through the exchange?”

Education and Public Safety Issues

Education and several public safety issues were also discussed during the open forum.

Education policy advisor Kristin Bernhard said several early childhood education programs lead the priority list heading into next year’s General Assembly.  Do not expect support for private school vouchers or increasing the age for compulsory school attendance from 16 to 18.

“The voucher conversation isn’t on the table for us,” Bernhard said.  “We’re more interested in increasing the quality of public education for all students everywhere.”  On compulsory school attendance she said, “The evidence is not necessarily compelling that raising the age of mandatory school attendance automatically results in an increased graduation rate.”

Education headlines over the next year will include incorporating the state’s version of new national core curriculum coursework, dual enrollment for middle school students taking high school courses or high school students taking college courses, tenth grade college readiness testing, and preparation to expand career pathways education now scheduled for fall 2013.

Also, Georgia admits that it has too many high school graduates who require remedial courses when they enter college.  “We know that students are graduating from high school not ready for college,” Bernhard told 100 Georgia Child Advocacy Network members.  Part of this discussion is how these students can be assisted by resources inside the state technical college system.

This week the Illinois Senate President proposed his state enact internet gaming legislation to get in front of a potential federal law that would grandfather existing state programs but prevent other states from creating new ones.  Do not expect anything like that in Georgia.

It is well documented that the lottery-funded HOPE scholarship, grant and pre-K programs can no longer afford to fully fund their commitments.  Governor Deal opposes a proposed casino-style project and Bernhard says, “What we’re looking at is what we can do to boost the existing revenue streams.”

Several folks applauded when public safety advisor Thomas Worthy said, “I have no doubt that we will probably see and definitely sign a juvenile code rewrite next year.”  HB 641 was a substantial effort to rewrite piecemeal juvenile laws that are decades old.  It passed the House but then was stopped before Senate consideration so more work could be done on cost.

“Everybody is in agreement on the policy side of things,” Worthy said.  “We are there.  The stakeholders are there.  Agencies are now there.  Now what we are tasked with doing is figuring out a way to not only pay for implementation but actually ascertain savings that will come under the bill.”  Worthy said consultation has begun with the Pew Center on the States; Pew assisted with criminal justice reform legislation that Governor Deal signed this month.

Worthy also acknowledged, “Not only do we have a horrible child trafficking problem within our state, (Interstate) 75 is used to move folks going to other states.”  This year HR 1151 in the General Assembly created a commission to study child trafficking and make recommendations.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta’s Reed: What We Need is More STEAM in Our Classrooms

Mike Klein

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed thinks our classrooms need more hot air.  “We actually need STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Reed told an “Education Nation” audience Monday morning at the Georgia Aquarium.  Later he added, “America cannot continue to be what it has been if we continue to have the kind of educational system that we have.”

Education Nation” is a two-year-old NBC News project to create solutions-based conversations about learning in America.  Atlanta is one of five cities being toured this year.  Reed was joined onstage by Senator Johnny Isakson and Governor Nathan Deal in a discussion moderated by Meet the Press host David Gregory.  WXIA 11Alive is NBC’s “Education Nation” local partner.

Reed visited China in March.  “China is rising because of the size of its market.” Reed said.  “In a terrific book by Thomas Friedman he talks about the fact that in America if we appropriately educate black people, Latinos and rural kids it is worth about $400 billion a year in expanded economic productivity.  We do not have the ability to leave anybody on the side of the road.”

Reed said China is “able to execute faster because they don’t have the robust debate that occurs in the U.S.   We also can’t forget in focusing on the success of the Chinese that at the end of the day the creative component we have can’t be lost in our move to make sure we are strong in STEM.  We actually need STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math.”

Reed, Isakson and Deal have formed partnerships that were not always possible between the state’s highest elected officials and the mayor of its largest city.  Reed has used his Washington connections to lobby hard for approval and federal funds to improve the Savannah ports.  He is a frequent visitor to the State Capitol and especially during General Assembly months.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta is the third city on this year’s “Education Nation” tour that opened in Denver last month and visited San Francisco last week. The final stops are Miami later this month and Aspen, Colorado at the end of June.  The conference events are customized to local audiences.

NBC’s Gregory noted Georgia has a 9% unemployment rate, employers are seeking specific kinds of workers and there are widespread vacancies because of a skilled workforce shortage.

Governor Deal focused early and often on technology.  Last week he visited Westside Middle School in Barrow County.  Westside is a Governor’s Innovation Fund grant recipient.  Deal saw firsthand the collaboration between Westside and Georgia Tech’s Direct to Discovery program.

“A professor at Georgia Tech was teaching them things that I would never have comprehended that a middle school student would be exposed to,” Deal said.  “We are making significant progress to widen the opportunities through technology that are being afforded to our students.  I think people are embracing that because they recognize that truly is where the future lies.”

Governor Deal worked the state’s Go Build Georgia initiative that is based on Go Build Alabama into the conversation early.  Georgia has a federal grant to help with start-up marketing but there is no direct funding in the 2013 state budget so ongoing costs to run this project will have to be absorbed by the private sector.

Governor Nathan Deal

Senator Johnny Isakson

Go Build Georgia is as an awareness initiative.  Once students understand there are many kinds of career options, the education they need is available from many sources, especially the Technical College System of Georgia and programs inside four-year universities such as the Kennesaw State University nursing school.

“The idea is to educate young people and their parents to the fact that if they have a craft, a skill that is going to be employable, they will earn a wage 27 percent higher than the average Georgian currently earns,” the Governor said.

“Education is the solution to the prison system,” Senator Isakson told the audience sprinkled with public education and private sector corporate leaders.  “It’s the solution to saving Social Security.  It’s the solution to a balanced budget.  It’s the solution to more revenue coming into the government.  When people are trained and educated and working they’re making money, they’re paying taxes and they’re growing.”

“Thought leaders are beginning to catch up and deal with this problem,” Reed said.  “Whoever has the best idea should flat out prevail but we can’t get away from the fact that 84 percent of the kids in the United States of America are educated in public schools … We’re losing a awful lot of kids who are on the sidelines.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal: “Parents Quite Frankly are the Ultimate Local Control”

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal traveled to Cherokee County on Thursday morning to deliver a message about charter schools.  “Parents quite frankly are the ultimate local control,” the Governor told parents, teachers, students, legislators and media who gathered at Cherokee Charter Academy to watch him sign this year’s charter schools commission implementation legislation.

“We hear that term used quite a bit but parents should be the ones who have a great say so in the way their children are educated,” Deal said.  “We believe that if we empower the citizens of this state and give them those kinds of opportunities they will respond.”

The official business was a signing ceremony for House Bill 797 that establishes how the state would re-create a charter schools commission if voters approve a constitutional amendment in November.  The bill also describes how state commission charter schools would be funded.

The unofficial business Thursday morning was to deliver a blunt message to those who continue to resist the charter schools movement that is trying to provide learning options in Georgia.

(Click here to watch the House Bill 797 signing ceremony on YouTube.)

Governor Nathan Deal

“Charter schools are in my opinion a key ingredient in the future educational success for the state of Georgia,” Governor Deal said.  “We know that when you promote competition, when you promote strong parental involvement which charter schools by necessity must have, then you improve the overall climate in which learning takes place.”

This issue has polarized educators and families who are trying to innovate with local or state approved charters against school boards, superintendents and teachers whose associations oppose the state charter schools commission concept and the constitutional amendment.

Cherokee Charter Academy opened last August as a state charter school after the Cherokee County Board of Education twice denied its local charter application. Click here to learn more about Cherokee Charter Academy and its fight with the Cherokee County school board.

Constitutional amendment opponents argue charter schools take education dollars away from local schools.  Deal answered that charge, saying, “House Bill 797 clearly states that local school districts will not miss out on funding because a charter school operates in their area.”

Lisa Grover of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools presented Deal with the Alliance’s 2012 Champion for Charters Award for his actions to safeguard 15,000 students after last year’s state Supreme Court decision that voided the state charter schools commission.  Previous recipients of the National Alliance award include governors Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.

(Click here to watch Governor Deal receive the 2012 Champion for Charters Award from the National Alliance of Public Schools on YouTube.)

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment