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Covington to study educational issues
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Covington and the literacy non-profit Newton Reads want to improve the county's educational deficiencies.

High-quality jobs require an educated, trained workforce, and leaders agree Newton County is lacking in that area, starting with below-average reading scores in elementary schools (97 out of 159 Georgia counties). In high school SAT scores, Georgia ranked 47 out of all states. Any turnaround will take years, but Newton Reads wants to begin the process as soon as possible.

The non-profit's Chairwoman, Kathy Fowler, approached the city about partnering to create a comprehensive education study to identify all of the community's resources, including colleges, the school system, non-profits, churches, businesses and individuals. The study would identify redundancies, needs and partnerships that improve education.

City grant writer Randy Conner will lead the efforts, pending city council approval.

"What we have now is the school system doing its thing, Newton Reads doing its thing, Washington Street Community Center, churches, etc. What would happen if we put everybody together," Conner said Friday.

Once resources are indentified, groups will be able to work together to form a study, which Conner said community groups will be able to use to apply for grants to enhance programs.

"This is a problem we've all recognized. We try to address housing problems and blight, but people do not live in substandard housing out of choice. They don't work minimum wage out of choice. It's usually the only option they have," Conner told the council, noting the school system can't do it alone.

The west side of Covington is one of the poorest and most uneducated areas in the county; 30 percent of residents 18 and older don't have a high school degree or GED and 90 percent of residents have moderate to low income.