State Senator-elect Ellis Black (R) and State Representatives Dexter Sharper (D) and Amy Carter (R) gave business leaders a snapshot of the 2015 legislative agenda at the Valdosta Country Club Wednesday afternoon.

The three, who are part of Valdosta’s delegation of the Georgia General Assembly, answered questions about what they intend to do in the 2015 session, and how the session will impact Valdosta.

Education was a common theme of the discussion. Carter, a teacher at Lowndes High School, and Sharper discussed education’s impact on the area.

“I think the biggest thing when you’re talking about employment, is a skill set, and also education,” Sharper said. “In order to have employment, you’ve got to have people who are qualified to do it.”

Sharper discussed the problems faced by some of his constituents.

“A lot of times in urban communities, you have a lot of crime, you have a lot of different things going on, and employment is low, but a lot of times, it’s not because of employment. It’s because people are just not qualified for the jobs. A lot of people may drop out [of high school], they don’t have the grades or the support systems, even at home.”

Sharper cited single-parent homes as a struggle more than a solid support system, and how it can sometimes hinder educational growth.

“A lot of these young men feel like they have to help mommy with the bills, so education at that point is not relevant to them,” Sharper said. “They feel that so they get out, get jobs, and sometimes get involved in things that are negative to the community.”

Sharper said that some of these individuals may get involved in gangs or drugs because there was no other opportunity available to them.

This poor education has kept major companies from investing in Valdosta, Sharper said.

“With a more educated community, more jobs will come here,” Sharper said.

Carter discussed the idea of dual enrollment, where a high school student could also be enrolled at a local college. Carter called it “the best bang for your buck.”

“You’re talking about juniors and seniors who are taking classes either on the high school campus or at the college, and they’re getting credit for both schools,” Carter said. “They may be taking a math class, or an English class and getting credit at both places. It does not even go against their HOPE cap.”

Carter explained that this dual enrollment can put some students at a huge advantage when graduating from high school.

“We have students graduating high school with 30 hours of college credit, and that doesn’t even go against their HOPE cap, so they start over when they start college.”

Black discussed transportation, and how he was confident that Governor Deal would get something done on that end.

“I went in the House in 2001, and we spent 10 years in the legislature trying to come up with some funding for transportation, and it took 10 years to come up with TSPLOST,” Black said. “People voted that down. Both Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue supported the effort, but didn’t get in to twist some arms and push and shove and try to direct things. The feeling I get is that Nathan Deal is going to get some funding, and I hope it won’t take 10 years to do it.”

Black said that transportation funding has been somewhat hampered by a fight over what Black called “Atlanta’s mass transit problem.”

“Way down here, we’re just not involved with mass transit to the degree that the Atlanta area is, and mass transit is so divisive, they can’t get nothing done up there because they can’t agree on what they want with mass transit,” Black said. “That is a snakepit to wade into, and I would hate to see our transportation funding get trapped in us trying to solve Atlanta’s mass transit problem.”

The discussion was presented by the Valdosta/Lowndes Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of Valdosta, and the Valdosta North Rotary Club.

JOE ADGIE joe.adgie@gaflnews.com | Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2014 6:00 am