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Tuesday, March 7, 2023 - Day 29
Archive of Past Legislative Alerts 

Amended voucher bill moves to the House

An amended voucher bill, SB 233, passed the state Senate yesterday and is likely to be referred to the House Education Committee.

SB 233 started as a universal voucher bill guaranteeing every student in Georgia a $6,000 taxpayer-paid, private-school tuition subsidy.  Facing certain defeat, the sponsor amended his bill to be limited to students in the lowest-performing 25% of public schools in the state, which are often located in the very poorest communities in the state.

Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states are required to identify schools in need of additional support.  Rather than provide the resources and funding needed for these schools, SB 233 would leave them weakened.  As with the introduced version of the bill, poorer and rural schools, and the taxpayers that fund them, will be subsidizing wealthier private schools in Atlanta.

The $6,000 proposed subsidy is far, far higher than the QBE funding per high school student of $2,897.28.  For kindergarten, QBE funding is $4,859.56 per student.

There is no fiscal note on SB 233, either as introduced or amended, so the true cost of this proposed third voucher program is not known.  Once entered into the voucher program, students can continue to receive state-paid private school tuition and fees from kindergarten through high school graduation whether or not the "low-performing" school is removed from the list.

The $6,000 voucher could be used for homeschooling students as well students attending private schools.  For homeschooling students, expenses would be approved by the commission.  A parent review committee is established to assist in the determination of whether expenses meet the requirements as a qualified education expense.  The commission may request the parent review committee consider appeals of schools or service providers that have been denied participation in the program.

Unlike the state's existing "Special Needs" voucher program, which is limited to students with medical and learning disabilities, this scheme makes any student eligible ... without regard to family income.

There is little oversight in the bill to assure the public that their tax dollars are well-spent or efficiently spent.  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.

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.

At the Capitol this week

The Senate Education Committee met briefly this afternoon and approved two bills.  First on the agenda was HB 402, requiring schools to notify parents of local "water safety" education opportunities such as swimming lessons.  The Committee also approved Gov. Brian Kemp's "school safety" legislation, HB 147, which requires annual "intruder alert" drills, filing of school emergency crisis plans with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), and an optional school safety and anti-gang endorsement by the Professional Standards Commission (PSC).

Tomorrow at 7 a.m., the House Appropriations Committee will consider their version of the 2023-2024 state budget, HB 19.  The budget includes funding for a $2,000 permanent increase in the teacher state salary schedule.  The proposed budget would increase to the maximum currently allowed by state law the multiplier used to calculate benefits for members of the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS).  The multiplier is currently set at $16; the budget would increase it to $16.50.  Meanwhile, legislation in the Senate, SB 105, proposes to eliminate the cap altogether and replace it instead with a $17 minimum multiplier.  SB 105 has been referred for an actuarial study and would be eligible for a vote in 2024.

The Senate Education and Higher Education Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee will take up HB 19 at 7 a.m. Thursday.

When the General Assembly ends its week Thursday, just nine days will be left in the session.

Bills that did not pass on Crossover Day

Most bills don't advance in the legislative process on Crossover Day.  Below is a list of some of the bills that died on Crossover Day:

HB 3 would have required additional funding from the state for school districts with a high number of students living in poverty.  A similar bill, HB 668, also did not pass.

HB 32 would have required the use of video instant replay in high school football state championship games.

HB 39 would have compelled institutions of high learning in Georgia to issue transcripts even if the student owes a financial debt to the school.

HB 141 proposed that every student age eight through 18 to undergo a suicide screening at the beginning of each school year.

HB 148, the "Student Teacher Promotion Act," would have provided grants of up to $7,500 to pay student teachers (interns) who successfully complete the student teaching or internship component of their education program.

HB 173 proposed to make kindergarten mandatory, lowering the age of compulsory school attendance from six years old to four years old, and requiring all school systems to offer a full-day kindergarten program.  A related bill, SB 241, would have lowered the age of mandatory education from six to five years of age.  Neither passed on or before Crossover Day.

HB 297, if passed, would have raised starting salaries for "teachers, administrators, and other certificated professional personnel" to $50,000 a year.  With five-years’ experience and a bachelor's degree, salary would rise to $65,000.  Similarly, SB 207 would have increased the minimum base salary for certified teachers to $49,000.

HB 335 would have allowed members of the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) to choose to join the Georgia Teachers Retirement System (TRS).  PSERS is the state pension plan for school bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and school maintenance employees.  ESPs in PSERS currently contribute $10 a month toward their retirement.  Under TRS, they would be required to pay 6% of their salary.

HB 356 would have banned corporal punishment in public schools.

HB 457 would have eliminated the punitive actions associated with TKES' "needs development" summative ratings.

HB 484 proposed to increase the number of "high needs" subject areas, from three to six, for which a retired educator could return to the classroom, receiving their TRS benefits and salary.  Under HB 385, which became law last year, only 211 retired educators have signed up for the program, which is intended to address the shortage of educators in Georgia.

HB 506 would have limited school and school system accreditation reviews to the quality of student learning and fiscal soundness.

HB 537
concerned evidence-based literacy training for licensed child care providers under the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL).  The bill also included requirements for re-certification in P-5 teaching fields and in the teaching fields of English Language Arts through the Professional Standards Commission (PSC).  GACE assessments would have been needed to be aligned with developmentally appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction.

HR 42 put forth a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have allowed for the election of local city and county school superintendents.  The resolution would have needed the approval of 2/3rd of members of the House of Representatives and the state Senate and a majority of voters in the state.  Separate legislation would have then be needed for a "local bill" allowing individual local systems to switch from a school-board appointed superintendent to an elected superintendent.

SB 88 would have required written parental consent for a student to change their gender identity on school records.  The bill contemplated banning drag-show performances or reading hours in schools.
  However, the bill also conflicted with mandatory reporting requirements of educators by prohibiting conversations with students on matters of a "sensitive nature."  Under the bill, if a student had wanted to discuss abuse by a parent or guardian with an educator or counselor, he or she would have needed the permission of the abusing parent.  The legislation also attempted to create a statewide dress code for educators, by banning dress in a "sexually provocative manner," without definition of that phrase.

SB 96 was a bill specific to one an out-of-state, for-profit company that prepares educators for certification.  A similar bill last year was opposed by the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) and the Georgia Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (GACTE).  That company is on probation in its home state for failing to meet that state’s standards that ensure future educators receive high-quality training.

SB 114 would have created a new city out of the Buckhead neighborhood in Atlanta, with potential harmful affects on students and schools affected.

SB 147 would have withdrawn state equalization grants from poorer school districts and given it to wealthier districts when a student transfers.

SB 154 would have subjected librarians and media specialists to charges of a "of a high and aggravated nature" for "furnishing" a student any picture, photograph, drawing, sculpture, motion picture film, or similar visual representation or image of a person or portion of the human body which depicts sexually explicit nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.”

SB 268 would have
prevented school systems in Georgia from ignoring certain state laws pertaining to public education (waivers), including laws related to:
  • Student health and physical education requirements,
  • Duty-free lunch time for educators,
  • Protection of educators' fair dismissal rights,
  • Maximum class sizes,
  • Requirements that teachers be certified,
  • Adherence to state teacher salary schedules, and
  • Expenditure controls.
Under a law unique to Georgia, school systems in Georgia may choose to ignore public-education laws simply by asking the State Department of Education for approval of their request.  To our knowledge, no school system has ever been denied their request.  All but 2 of the 181 school districts in Georgia have waivers from state public-education laws.  State-chartered systems are automatically allowed to choose which state laws they want to follow.

In addition, none of the bills to legalize gambling, including sports betting, race horse betting, or casinos, passed.  Most of these bills included provisions to benefit education programs funded by the state lottery.

Next Update will be Wednesday, March 8 - Day 30

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