Deal's plan includes policy changes, such as increasing health instruction, funding universal prekindergarten and establishing math charter schools.
Barnes' centers on teachers, their pay, benefits and the number of students they would be assigned. He would put two teachers on his staff in the governor's office so they could participate in decision making, and he would convene teacher panels across the state for their input.
As he campaigns, he vows to never furlough teachers and reminds them that he raised their pay 16 percent as governor.
Perhaps it isn't surprising that the Georgia Association of Educators endorsed him since it gave its nod to the other Democrats on the statewide ballot. But the organization didn't support him -- or anyone for governor -- in 2002 when he wound up defeated because of provisions of his education-reform law two years earlier.
That reform ended tenure for teachers -- since restored -- reduced class sizes, ended social promotion, boosted time on core subjects and imposed some of the testing and accountability measures that eventually were central to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The sweeping law won him national recognition and seats on foundations, but Georgia's SAT scores were dead last in the country when he left office.
Deal also has a track record from his 18 years in Congress.
For example, he favored elimination of the U.S. Department of Education as a way to streamline bureaucracy and funnel that money to local systems instead. He also voted for budgets that would have cut spending for the department, and he has opposed spending increases for student aid.
And Deal voted to allow the District of Columbia system to grant tuition vouchers to parents wanting to send their children to private schools.
Deal has said that boosting spending on education isn't necessarily the key to improvement. Instead, he has favored ways to give more flexibility to educators and parents to come up with their own solutions.
"I have listened to Georgians and believe this plan has the right elements to bring needed changes to public education in Georgia," he said when he unveiled his education platform at a Capitol news conference last month.
He stressed flexibility then, such as his idea to let students take end-of-course tests and advance to the next grade midyear if their instructors think they're prepared.
"We will no longer tie the hands of students and teachers by imposing arbitrary 'seat time' requirements," said Deal, whose mother and in-laws were also teachers.
But Barnes has a different approach. In a forum before the GAE, he vowed to keep the money flowing to schools.
"You have to tell the General Assembly, 'I'm ... not going to allow you to starve the public school system or there is nothing else that is going to be passed in the General Assembly,'" said the former governor, whose parents never graduated from high school.