Neely Young: A Few Suggestions

Our new governor, Nathan Deal of Gaines-ville, will soon be sitting in a comfortable chair in his new office at the state capitol. Here is one humble citizen’s recommendation for a few things he could do to quickly fix some of the problems facing our state.

I believe he will be interested in economic development, the task of bringing new industry and jobs to Georgia. It would be good if he could increase funding to the state’s Economic Development Department. But he could propose initiatives designed to solve our biggest economic development issue: education. Georgia and other southern states have been criticized for substandard educational systems by industries wanting to move plants to the South. Last year Toyota chose Canada over South Carolina for this reason.

Georgia’s public education system has some of the lowest SAT test scores in the nation, ranking 48th as of last year. It’s been an embarrassment for years. And it is totally misleading. We have some great students in Georgia, but the SAT ranking is not an apple-to-apple comparison.

States such as Minnesota have great education systems and rank among the top five in the country. Yet Minnesota gives the SAT test to only 47 percent of its student population, while Georgia gives the test to 76 percent of our students; this dilutes our results.

Many Georgia students taking the test have no plans to go to college. In many successful SAT states, teachers select only high-performing students for the test, and only those who plan to attend college.

Why don’t we give this test to our college- bound students only, roughly 45 percent, so we compare ourselves to other states that give the test to the smaller number of students? If we do this, our test ranking would improve dramatically.

Georgia has one of the highest school dropout rates in the nation. In most parts of the country the dropout age is 18; in Georgia and other southern states the dropout age is 16.

This is an old by-product of our agricultural heritage. Families needed their kids out of school early to help on the family farm. Those days are gone with the wind. When kids drop out at 16 they have no job prospects and are likely to wind up in our prison system, where the state takes care of them at a cost of more than $40,000 a year. Why not raise the dropout age to 18 so students have a chance to graduate and become productive citizens?

And let’s look again at the driving age. In 2007, Georgia’s lawmakers did a good job of revamping requirements for getting a driver’s license, raising the age for a Class C license from 16 to 18. Sixteen-year-olds now have many more restrictions than previously, but it’s worth considering whether they ought to be driving at all.

Gov. Deal is the right person to deal with immigration issues. He has a calm demeanor and should be able to tone down the high-pitched emotions in the Georgia legislature. Our cover story last month “Immigration! Tough Talk, Tough Issue” outlines many of the problems stemming from the more than 400,000 illegals residing in Georgia.

Deal is from Gainesville, where citizens have been dealing with immigration much longer than the rest of the state. Because of the poultry industry’s need for a workforce, Gainesville saw an Hispanic influx back in the late ’70s. Of all the communities we have written about, this one has the best record of dealing with immigration in a fair and open manner.

Lastly, Gov. Deal should not follow Gov. Perdue’s example when it comes to working with the media. In his first days in office, Perdue simply stayed silent on controversial issues and even banned his staff from talking with certain columnists. This policy helped build his reputation as a “do-nothing” governor.

Perdue actually did some good things. He never realized that by trying to ignore the media he was cutting off readers and viewers from information about his actions and achievements.

There are other issues – water, transportation, mental health, prison overpopulation – the new governor will have to address.

But the suggestions outlined here could be implemented easily and would produce a fast fix for some of our state’s problems. They will meet opposition, but with a strong pitch and push from the governor’s office, they could be implemented.

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