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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
Legislative Session Ends Monday

The 156th Session of the Georgia General Assembly ended Monday night, well after midnight.  The governor has 40 days from the time that bills passed are presented to him to decide whether to sign them into law or veto them.

[Sine die is a Latin term meaning "without any future date designated" to meet again.  The phrase is often used as a term for the final day of a legislative session.  We do, of course, know when the General Assembly will convene for the 157th Session, January 9, 2023, as prescribed by law, the second Monday in January.]

Here's look at what passed and what didn't that should be of interest to educators across the state.

The last day of the session is usually marked by last-minute posturing and deal-making as lawmakers try to get their bills passed.  Monday was no exception.

RACE AND RACISM: Monday saw final passage of HB 1084, which restricts the teaching and discussion of issues related to race and racism in the classroom.  The bill will be transmitted to the governor, who is expected to sign the bill into law.  GAE was able to make some changes to the legislation, including the removal of language that could have led to educators going to jail if found teaching some of the "divisive concepts" found in the bill.

TRANSGENDER STUDENTS AND ATHLETICS: In a last minute surprise, HB 1084 was amended on the floor of the House to create an oversight committee with authority to create policy on the participation of transgender girls in so-called "girls sports."  An outright ban on their participation in school athletic contests was a priority of a number of Republicans but was not enacted.

TAX INCENTIVES FOR DONORS TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS: HB 517 was passed in the final hours of the session.  A House version of the bill would have committed the state to spending $1.8 Billion over the next ten years giving tax breaks to individuals and businesses that contribute to private schools.

A conference committee of legislators from each chamber was appointed to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions.  The Senate initially rejected the compromise bill, falling a vote short of the 29 votes needed to pass the bill.  On a vote to reconsider, however, the bill passed by one vote.

It was a David (GAE) versus Goliath (lobbyists from dozens of well-funded out-of-state organizations) moment while it lasted.  GAE and GAE members lobbying on the bill won a number of key concessions, with the increase cost to the taxpayers of Georgia reduced to 20% of what the pro-voucher groups had sought.  GAE also won some important new accountability measures to the legislation.  Gov. Brian Kemp has stated he will sign the measure.

K-5 DAILY RECESS: A proposed new law requiring daily recess for children in grades K-5 and unstructured break time for students in grades 6-8 was adopted.  GAE lobbied hard for the bill since Gov. Kemp vetoed similar legislation three years ago.  GAE believes he will sign this measure.

TKES EVALUATIONS: HB 1295 proposed eliminating adverse actions for "needs development" ratings on summative TKES reviews.  Under current law, two needs development ratings in a five-year period would prevent an educator from renewing his or her teaching certification. The bill had passed the House and the Senate Education Committee with overwhelmingly majorities.  However, the Senate never brought the bill to the floor for a vote, and the bill died when the session was gaveled to an end.

2023 STATE BUDGET: EDUCATOR RAISES AND BONUSES: On the last day of the session, the House and Senate reached agreement on a record $30.2 billion budget.  The compromise includes a $2,000 permanent pay raise for classroom teachers and full funding for the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula.  Adjustments to the current 2022 budget passed earlier in the session give teachers and ESPs a $2,000 bonus, which should be received this month.

COVID AND SCHOOLS: Also on Monday, the Senate gave final passage to SB 345 that prohibits state and local governments - including school boards - from requiring COVID vaccinations.  The bill began as legislation to prohibit state and local government from requiring vaccinations for any communicable disease, such as polio, tuberculous, or diphtheria.  Earlier in the session, lawmakers approved SB 514 allowing parents to opt their children out of school district mask requirements, blowing holes in a key preventive measure during periods of high transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

SCHOOL ACCREDITATION: SB 498, a bill by retiring Sen. Lindsey Tippins, to make changes to the criteria that school accreditation agencies use to review schools, died without a vote in the House of Representatives.  A proposed study committee on school accreditation, HR 1048, also died.  Another Tippins bill, SB 575, to allow school boards to present financial reports quarterly rather than monthly also did not pass.

INTERNET FILTERS AND SCHOOL TECHNOLOGY: HB 1217, touted as Gov. Kemp's pornography and obscenity bill, died on the final legislative day.  The bill never received a vote in the Senate.  The bill would have required local boards of education to update their technology policies and use filters to screen out material that is "harmful to minors."

STUDENT FINANCIAL LITERACY: HB 681, which would have required a financial literacy course in high school, somewhat redundant to action of the state Board of Education last December, died on sine die.  However, a similar bill, SB 220, did pass.  SB 220 requires the State Board of Education to adopt content standards for a minimum course of instruction in financial literacy to be completed by students in eleventh or twelfth grade:

"Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, each local board of education shall require all students, as a condition of graduation, during their eleventh or twelfth grade years, to complete at least a half-credit course in financial literacy ... Such course of instruction may be provided within the framework of existing coursework offered by a local school system.  Such course of instruction shall be eligible to count toward a mathematics, social studies, or elective unit of credit requirement for graduation."

SB 220 also requires the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) to establish appropriate requirements and procedures to license educators to teach financial literacy.

The legislation also establishes the Georgia Commission on Civics Education to periodically review civics education in Georgia schools.

TEACHER CERTIFICATION: HB 1357, to allow out-of-state organizations without a physical presence in Georgia to provide teacher certification services, died on Monday.
Review of legislation passed
or defeated before sine die

Through the eyes of those who would tear down public education through the passage of the legislation that requires the state to fund private school tuition, the session has to be considered a complete disaster.

Half a dozen or more bills were filed this year to significantly expand private school vouchers.  None of them passed.  The one voucher bill that made it to the floor for a vote was defeated 20-29 in the Senate.  It was a bill to create a new, $6,000 universal private-school tuition subsidy for any student in Georgia.

The pro-voucher lobby sought to double the existing taxpayer-funded income tax incentive for contributors who fund private school tuition was but was rebuffed.  They also lost in their attempt to continue to shield this tax break from good-government transparency requirements.

RETIREMENT: HB 385 allows retired educators with 30 years of creditable service to return to teaching, full-time while receiving their TKES benefits.  Retirees can only return in subject areas of high need and after one year in retirement.  HB 385 passed and will be sent to the governor for his signature, which is anticipated.

At GAE's request, Senate Retirement Committee Chairman Randy Robertson has agreed to hold committee meetings this summer to review the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS), which provides retirement benefits for many school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and other ESPs.

CENSORSHIP BILLS: More than half-a-dozen bills making it easier for parents to complain about library books and instructional materials were introduced this session.

SB 226, which encourages parents to object to books in school libraries that are "harmful to minors" passed both chambers.
  HB 1178 establishes new complaint processes for objections to instructional material.  Both bills will be sent to the governor.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETINGS: SB 588 requires school board meetings be open to the public and states that individuals may only be removed from a meeting for "actual disruption."  This bill also goes to the governor.

STUDY COMMITTEE ON QBE: SR 650, creating a Senate study committee on Education Funding Mechanisms to consider changes to the QBE funding formula, passed on April 1.

LITERACY: HR 650, which creates the House Study Committee on Literacy, passed in March.  A GAE amendment was adopted to include an educator on the committee.

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