ATLANTA - Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mark Taylor upped the ante Monday on his promise not to cut education spending.
The lieutenant governor, who is challenging Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in next month's election, signed a pledge to stop the cuts Perdue already has imposed on the state's per-pupil school funding formula and veto any future attempts to reduce Georgia's commitment to public schools.
As he signed a giant copy of the pledge in front of reporters at the Capitol, Taylor challenged Perdue and Garrett Hayes, the Libertarian candidate for governor, to follow his example.
"Governor Perdue, sign this pledge for all of Georgia to see ... and stop the insane policy of robbing our children's future,'' Taylor said.
Democrats and Republicans have been waging a war of words over the state of school funding in Georgia for months, well before Taylor defeated Secretary of State Cathy Cox in July to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The Perdue camp has touted the governor's commitment of an additional $1 billion in overall funding to Georgia's public schools since he took office in 2003.
But Democrats say Republicans are ignoring $1.25 billion in cuts to the per-pupil K-12 funding formula that Perdue has imposed during the same period. Without those reductions, Democrats argue, the increase to schools would have been much larger.
Perdue campaign spokesman Derrick Dickey said the governor's $1 billion investment is paying off in better results than were achieved during the previous Democratic administration of former Gov. Roy Barnes and Taylor.
"When Mark Taylor and Roy Barnes were in charge, Georgia's SAT scores fell to dead last in the nation, and our graduation rate was one of the worst in the nation,'' Dickey said. "Now, our SAT ranking and graduation rate are the highest in our state's history.''
Indeed, both categories of educational achievement improved this year, with Georgia climbing into a tie for 46th in the nation in SAT scores. According to the Perdue administration, the state's graduation rate has risen from 63 percent to 70 percent, although the state university system is reporting a lower number.
But Taylor said the increase in education spending cited by the governor is merely the result of a dramatic increase in student enrollment during his four years in office and an election-year decision to boost teacher pay and roll back class sizes.
"Education has to be a four-year commitment,'' Taylor said.
Monday's news conference was the second Taylor has held at the Capitol in the last five days, after spending the previous three months since the primary mostly raising money to air TV ads or making campaign stops around the state, where he drew less intense press coverage.
Last week, he said Perdue's overhaul of Georgia's Medicaid program is cutting services to disabled