Those who paid for lunch with Gov. Nathan Deal at Highland Country Club on Tuesday got a two-for-one special, Deal’s wife, Sandra, arrived with her husband and also spoke to the gathering.
“I’m proud to be an ambassador for the state,” Sandra Deal said.
The first lady recently wrapped up an effort to read to children in every school system in Georgia. Reading – along with education – are part of what she considers the foundation for the state and its residents.
“We’re a great state and we have a great workforce,” she said. “Pride comes in being able to choose your own future. No job is too menial if you choose it.”
The governor also cited his accomplishments to education, through saving the HOPE scholarship and other programs. Lottery-funded pre-kindergarten programs are now back up to 180 days long to match the regular school year and the minimum GPA is back down to 2.0 to qualify. But as part of saving HOPE, Deal said money for students needs to be put where the jobs are. If a student signs up for a program where there are already documented vacancies in employment, such as commercial trucking or nursing, 90 percent of their education costs will be covered by a HOPE grant.
The state also has changed the funding it gives to colleges.
“Our high school graduation rate is nothing to be proud of,” he said, but some colleges also have low graduation rates.
“Our funding has always been based on enrollment, but now a portion will be based on graduation rates,” he said.
Deal said he was pleased with the cooperation he got from the General Assembly on changes made to the state’s criminal justice system this year.
“There were no dissenting votes,” he said. “That’s almost unheard of.”
Deal formed the Criminal Justice Reform Council to make changes in adult and juvenile court. “Accountability courts,” such as drug, mental health and other special courts for non-violent offenders have seen a $12 million increase in funding. Non-violent juveniles are being sent to programs in their own towns rather than to a youth detention center.
“I thought the changes would take a while,” Deal said. But the state has gone from housing 5,000 offenders who should be in prison in local jails to just less than 500.
“That saves the state and local governments money,” he said.
Deal said he would be asking for a new program to go along with the justice reforms, a transition, support and reentry program for offenders leaving prison.
“Most people in prison are going to come out at some point,” he said. “If they don’t have any skills, they will be one of the one in three that are back in three years. It’s less expensive to give them training than to keep them locked up.”
Deal also talked about the state’s economic development efforts and held up Troup County and Kia as a model for the state.
“Your county has been in the forefront of economic activity,” he said. “Kia has become our premiere international ambassadors.”
The state has added 75,000 new jobs and $14 billion in capital since Deal took office through the state economic development department, he said. About 100,000 new jobs have been added through other growth.
“I believe that jobs are the heart and center of the social life of the state,” Deal said. “If you want less dependence on government, give people a good job. They will be able to support themselves and their families.”