Mother of all voucher bills filed yesterday
BILLIONS EACH YEAR FOR PRIVATE SCHOOLS
Legislation was filed late this week to give $6,000-a-year to every student in Georgia to attend the private school of their choice.
The bill forces hard-working Georgians to pay the private school tuition and fees of more wealthy families from pre-K through high school graduation.
If just 10% of the 1.75 million school children in our state take advantage of the handout, the bill would cost a billion dollars-a-year in taxpayer subsidies mostly for the Atlanta-area's most exclusive private schools. The bill is SB 233.
The bill is likely to be heard next week because Monday, March 6 is Crossover Day, the last day a bill must pass the chamber of its introduction and be eligible for consideration in the other chamber.
Unlike the state's existing "Special Needs" voucher program, which is limited to students with medical and learning disabilities, this scheme makes any family eligible no matter how much money they make. Students with no extenuating circumstances are also eligible.
This bill takes tax dollars from poor and middle class families and gives it to the rich. There is no limit on how much the state and Georgia taxpayers would have to cough up to cover private school tuition. Under the current Special Needs vouchers, 60% of the beneficiaries are white males in metro Atlanta.
There is little oversight on how taxpayer money is spent under the proposal. A committee of participating parents will oversee expenditures of the program. The bill requires a survey of participating parents to see how happy they are to be getting state-funded private school assistance.
The bill is an insulting afront to public education by taking the tax dollars of hard-working Georgians away from public education to pay private schooling.
Given the financial needs of public schools, this money would be better spent on a myriad of funding needs such hiring more teachers, counselors, social workers, and school psychologists, and improving the pay and benefits of all educators. Legislators could easily ensure high-speed internet throughout the state and in rural Georgia with what the bill would cost.
The General Assembly could fund the transportation costs increasingly born by local systems and provide additional funding for schools that have a high number of students living in poverty. Many teachers in Georgia spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each year just to pay for school supplies for their students.
Since 2003, Georgia has slashed $11 billion from public education. This is money that schools will never again if SB 233 becomes law.
SB 233 will take locally generated tax dollars and send them across county lines in many cases.
Vouchers bills like SB 233 are associated with fraud. This bill is modeled after an Arizona law. The Arizona Department of Education identified more than $700,000 in illegal expenditures by parents whose children were participating in their voucher program.
In 2021, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts wrote of the current voucher program in Georgia: "Additional steps are needed to improve transparency and accountability of the student scholarship program." Vouchers proponents have routinely resisted efforts to bring academic accountability and financial transparency to Georgia's existing voucher programs.
Vouchers bills like SB 233 offer false hope to many families. The subsidy falls far short of the actual tuition costs of elite private schools in Georgia, some with the tuition and fees totaling more than $30,000-a-year and more. The bill does nothing for rural areas in Georgia where there are no private schools.
Legislation just like SB 233 was rejected by the Georgia Senate last year, with 29 Senators voting against it.
GAE opposes all voucher legislation. Public funds should be used by public schools to provide the best education for all Georgia students.
Largest ever attendance at yesterday's GAE Day at the Capitol
More than 250 GAE members gathered at the state Capitol Thursday to lobby their legislators on legislation pending before the General Assembly.
Members also heard State School Superintendent Richard Woods call for additional steps to the teacher salary schedule. Currently, after 21 years of service, a teacher's salary is capped for their rest of their career. Woods also spoke to the need for changes to the Teachers Keys Effectiveness System (TKES).
Legislature returns Monday for Day 24
Last week for bills to be passed out of committee
Next week is the last week for bills to be passed out of assigned committees so that they can be eligible to pass the chamber in which they were introduced by Crossover Day on Monday, March 6.
The following committee meetings have been posted:
Monday: The House Higher Education Committee meets Monday at 8 a.m. in 606 Coverdell No agenda has been published. The meeting will be live-streamed at: https://vimeo.com/showcase/8972626?autoplay=1.
The Policy Subcommittee of the House Education Committee meets at 1 p.m. in Room 506 of the Coverdell Building. The meeting may be viewed at:
The House Retirement Committee will hold hearings at 2:30 p.m. There are no educaton-related retirement bills are on the agenda.
Tuesday: The Senate Education Committee has posted notice of its meeting at 2:30 p.m. in Room 450 of the State Capitol. No agenda has been announced. The meeting will be live-streamed at: https://vimeo.com/showcase/9027934?autoplay=1. SB 233, vouchers, or SB 88, could be debated and voted on.
SB 88 would require written parental consent for a student to change their gender identity on school records. The bill contemplates banning drag-show performances or reading hours in schools.
However, the bill also appears to conflict with mandatory reporting requirements of educators by prohibiting conversations with students on matters of a "sensitive nature." For example, if a student wanted to discuss abuse by a parent or guardian with an educator or counselor, he or she would need the permission of the abusing parent.
The legislation also attempts to create a statewide dress code for educators, by banning dress in a "sexually provocative manner," without definition of that phrase.
SB 88 also includes new statutory definitions of terms like "biological sex" and "gender identity."
The bill's sponsor presented the bill in a prior hearing and admitted changes were needed with the bill. There were numerous questions of the sponsor. No vote was taken then.
The Curriculum Subcommittee of the House Education Committee meets at 3 p.m. in Room 415 of the Coverdell Building. The meeting can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/showcase/8988927?autoplay=1. A bill on school accreditation, HB 506, will be heard as well as HB 538, the Georgia Early Literacy Act.
Also at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the Senate Retirement Committee will meet. SB 206, by Sen. Larry Walker, is on the agenda. The bill requires a review of school systems that do not participate in the Social Security System for Education Support Professionals (ESPs) in the Public School Employee Retirement System (PSERS), specifically school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance personnel, and custodians. Schools districts - even if they opted out of participation in the Social Security System for members of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) - are required to contribute to Social Security for PSERS members.
Wednesday: The Senate Education and Youth Committee meets for a second time next week, at 10 a.m., 307 Coverdell. No agenda has been announced.
Next Update will be Monday, February 27
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