“I’ve been frustrated with the lack of support that’s coming out of the governor’s office for public education. I’ve been frustrated with the questionable ethics that I’ve seen, and, really, when you look at the basis of our platform, it’s education and economic development. It’s really tough to sustain any real economic development when you don’t have a support vision for education in your state, and you don’t run your state ethically,” Barge said.
Although a number of corporations and businesses have announced new investments or are expanding existing investments — such as Toyo Tire and Shaw in Bartow County — Barge said Georgia still is behind the rest of the nation economically. Unemployment, he continued, was another area where Georgia trails other states. Barge stated Georgia ranked 43rd in the nation in terms of unemployment. However, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, in July Georgia ranked lower at 46th in the nation, tying with Michigan at 8.8 percent unemployment.
Barge then cited ethics and integrity data for Georgia government to highlight his concerns.
“The Center for Public Integrity ranks Georgia dead last in the nation when it comes to integrity in public officials ... I just think there are lots of things that can be done better,” he said. “We’ve made some tremendous improvement in education over the last several years, but we’re not going to be able to sustain those with the lack of support public education is receiving in the form of the state funding formula.”
The state funding formula, Barge said, dates back to 1984. For nearly 30 years, Georgia schools have operated under the formula, which has not been updated to reflect inflation. In addition, Barge claimed more than $1 billion is being withheld from Georgia schools, meaning school systems are not funded even at the 1984 level.
“One of the first things I would tackle is to begin to restore reductions and the cuts to public education. I mean, we have seen state revenues increase every year for the last three years. We’re sitting with a surplus in our rainy day fund that’s very healthy,” he said. “We could take a third of what’s there and begin to restore back the school systems enough money to keep some of our poor school systems [solvent]. We have some of our little districts that are just literally months away from being bankrupt. We absolutely could begin that process of restoring some of those funds.”
Another change Barge has planned is divesting the governor’s office of certain accumulated powers and ensuring state departments have experienced leaders.
“I think the governor’s office has — and I’m not limiting this to just the current administration at all — I think over time the governor’s office has really consolidated a lot of power and control under that one office,” he said. “One of the things that I would do is to, I guess, divest some of that and return that where it should be.
“I think making sure that the people you place around you in places of leadership over these state agencies have the experience, require the experience, necessary to lead the agencies that they’re leading. In some cases I think there are a lot of folks in positions of leadership who are friends or major donors to the governor’s campaign. So I think making sure that you’ve got the right people in the right places leading government would be a big step in the right direction.”
Although Gov. Nathan Deal has a head start in fundraising, and reportedly has $1 million in his war chest, Barge remains confident he will catch up. He could not start raising funds until he filed on Tuesday, and he has already received approximately $20,000. Support, he believes, will come from all areas of the state — especially educators — and may include bipartisan support from some Democrats.
“I have a number of people who have contacted me via Facebook and email and even just in person and say, ‘John, I’m a Democrat, I’ve never voted Republican in my life, but I will vote for you,’” he said.
Running for governor is something Barge believes he must do so education in Georgia will continue to improve. Having 7 percent higher SAT scores and gains in student achievement in standardized testing are progress, he said, but he does not believe the momentum can continue unless policies change.
“My time as state superintendent has been wonderful. I wouldn’t dream of leaving unless I felt like I had to in order to keep education [moving] in the right direction. I feel like I’ve gone as far as I can go without the support of the governor’s office, and I don’t see that. That’s why I’m running for governor,” Barge said.