- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Gov. Nathan Deal said revamping the state’s system for funding K-12 education and continuing his administration’s work on criminal justice will be priorities of his second term, jubilant after overcoming a tough Election Day challenge from Democrat Jason Carter.

Deal told reporters at his celebration Tuesday night that he doesn’t consider his win a mandate, but called it a “rather surprisingly big margin” after he fought back a spirited challenge from the state senator and grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.

Polls leading up to the race had suggested a tight contest, with the possibility that neither leading candidate would earn more than 50 percent of the vote and force a December runoff. Yet unofficial tallies showed Deal won with about 53 percent of the vote Tuesday with roughly 98 percent of the expected vote counted.

Democrats had hoped that Carter could muster up a coalition of voters who typically sit out non-presidential races to take down Deal.

The incumbent was part of a Republican takeover of the state’s constitutional offices in 2010. Deal’s relentlessly optimistic take on the state’s economy proved effective, and Carter didn’t make the impact he needed as he focused on the state’s high unemployment rate and cuts to education.

Deal said he doesn’t want any wasted time and plans to continue work on a budget proposal for the Legislature’s consideration during the 2015 session.

“We will work up until the very last day,” Deal said. “We are intent on making Georgia much, much better than it was when I came into office initially. We’ve had four years to move us in that direction. Four more years, I think, are going to show even more progress.

The tight race between Carter, a 39-year-old state senator from metro Atlanta, and Deal, a 72-year-old former congressman, was the governor’s last and his toughest.

Deal painted Carter as a young, inexperienced politician who was promising more than he could deliver without raising taxes. Carter, meanwhile, focused on Deal’s record on education funding and faulted Deal for the state’s unemployment rate ranked highest in the nation by federal officials.

On Tuesday night, Carter told his supporters that the campaign had forced a discussion of education in Georgia.

“Don’t be discouraged out there in any way,” Carter said. “I certainly am not. We’ve accomplished something real. Our state is a better place.”

Deal has said that he doesn’t plan to tackle a review of education funding in one legislative session. Instead, he has described bringing together a coalition of education stakeholders to weigh in and develop changes to the formula that recommends how much lawmakers should spend on K-12 schools.

Georgia’s dense formula recommends how much the state should spend on education based on the number of students enrolled, staff salaries and other expenses and tries to balance for factors like special education programs and local property wealth.

Political history isn’t on the governor’s side. Other attempts to overhaul the formula have resulted in small changes, and educators have expressed some concern that the push to “update” the formula means the state will set a spending total with less consideration of the cost to educate children.

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