ATLANTA — John Barge, the state superintendent of schools and a candidate for governor, blasted Gov. Nathan Deal Friday for not funding public schools enough to avoid local districts’ decision to furlough teachers.

“In 2012, there was a promise made to end teacher furloughs. That hasn’t happened,” Barge told reporters attending a conference hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

A survey of local school systems by the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute found that 71 percent of them have school years less than the 180 days specified in state law. And 82 percent of them are dependent on their case reserves to balance the current budget.

House Education Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, told the conference some districts are in dire circumstances.

“We have 19 systems that are on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said.

Barge said he doesn’t know what Deal, a fellow Republican, will recommend for education when he announces his budget proposal Wednesday.

“I’ve not had any direct conversations with the governor’s office about funding. I have no idea what it is,” the superintendent said. “I have to read it in the newspaper. That’s where my information comes from.”

Barge said he is stepping down as superintendent because he believes he can do more good for schools as governor.

Without offering details, he said he would take some funds from other agencies by removing duplication. Since education and healthcare spending already take up about 70 percent of the state budget, complete elimination of multiple agencies would never come close to replacing the $1 billion difference between what is currently allocated for schools and what the state’s funding formula calls for.
Barge refused to say if he would favor raising taxes to make a more sizable reduction in that billion-dollar hole. But he did say he would tap the state’s cash reserves.

“You’re not going to be able to fully restore a billion,” he said. “I know that. But it’s not going to take that to alleviate some of the pressure. We’ve got to start somewhere.”

The state may need those reserves. The Policy and Budget Institute projects that while state tax collections are $500 million higher than last year, spending is $700 million higher, mostly due to increases in healthcare and enrollment growth in public schools and colleges.

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