February 20, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 16
Report Snapshot

Two New Private School Voucher Bills Could Carry Big Cost

New Proposal to Reduce State Assessments

Your Input Needed on Educational Impact of Daylight Saving Time

Georgia School Nurses Association and Georgia STOMP Webinar for School Nurses on Feminine Hygiene Product Distribution

Upcoming Schedule

Monday, Feb. 24 - Legislative Day 17

Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, 8 a.m., 450 CAP

Senate Education & Youth Committee, 2 p.m., 307 CLOB, Hearing on SB 367-Testing Reduction Bill

Tuesday, Feb. 25 - Legislative Day 18

House State Planning & Community Affairs, 1 p.m., 506 CLOB

House Retirement, 2 p.m., 515 CLOB

Wednesday, Feb. 26 - Legislative Day 19

House Appropriations Education Subcommittee, 1 p.m., 341 CAP

Senate Education & Youth, 2 p.m., 307 CLOB

Senate Retirement, 4 p.m., Mezz 1, CAP
Two New Private School Voucher Bills Could Carry Big Cost

Several state lawmakers have proposed two new private school voucher bills, which would cost Georgia taxpayers more with scant evidence that the voucher programs are effective for students. The first would expand one of Georgia’s two voucher programs, the Special Needs Scholarship program. The second bill would keep funding for the tax credit voucher program at $100 million instead of rolling it back to $58 million in 2029 as is currently planned.

Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) has authored Senate Bill 386 , which would expand the Special Needs Scholarship program if approved by the General Assembly. The program provides vouchers to special education students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and attend a public school in Georgia for one year. SB 386 would expand eligibility to all students who have a Section 504 Plan as well as those who have been adopted or placed in permanent guardianship from foster care. Any student with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities is eligible for a 504 plan. Many more students are served under 504 plans than under IEPs. The bill would also eliminate the mandate that the State Board of Education report the number of students who seek a waiver from the public school attendance requirement to the General Assembly.

SB 386 fails to address whether eligibility for the private school voucher will continue indefinitely if the condition qualifying a student for a 504 plan ends.    

As described in PAGE’s report, Pushing Public Dollars to Private Schools , the special needs voucher program has never been evaluated, although it has operated for over 10 years. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement prepares an annual report, which provides some information about participants. However much critical information is unknown including:

  • Information about students’ family income

  • Number of years students receive a voucher

  • Retention rate of voucher students at each participating school

In addition, although the voucher program is directed to special education students, participating students waive their rights to those services as provided under the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act. No information is available on how the loss of this protection affects participating students.

The program should undergo a comprehensive evaluation before any expansion is considered.

SB 386 has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth committee, which is chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), who is also a co-sponsor of the bill. Information about when the committee will review the bill is not yet available.

Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) sponsors House Bill 939 , which would remove the sunset clause on the recent funding hike to Georgia’s tax credit private school voucher program. Carson’s support for the tax credit voucher program is not new. He authored House Bill 217 , which increased the cap on the tax credit voucher program to $100 million from $58 million and was approved by the General Assembly in 2018. HB 217 set a date to roll back the increase: January 1, 2029. If approved, HB 939 would eliminate this roll back date, allowing the tax credit voucher program to continuing diverting $100 million in public dollars to private schools for years to come.

The tax credit voucher program has never been evaluated although it, too, has operated for over a decade. As described in Pushing Public Dollars to Private Schools , the program lacks meaningful transparency and accountability requirements. Basic information about the program, such as the number of students who receive a voucher, is not collected. Nor is any data gathered about how students fare academically in the program.

HB 939 has been assigned to the House Ways and Means committee. Rep. Carson serves as vice chairman of the committee. Information about when the committee will review the bill is not yet available.

The PAGE legislative team is gathering additional information about the bills and will provide an update when it becomes available.

-Claire Suggs
New Proposal to Reduce State Assessments

Senator P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville) introduced Senate Bill 367 , which aims to cut the number of standardized tests required by the state. PAGE members have consistently cited concerns regarding the impact of standardized tests on teaching and learning. Reducing the tests is a PAGE legislative priority and has been a central part of PAGE’s advocacy at the Capitol. Core components of SB 367 include:

  • Eliminating the social studies Milestones test for 5th graders.

  • Reducing the number of high school Milestones tests to four from eight.

  • Shifting the test administration dates for students in grades three to eight to the last 25 school days of the school year.

  • Removing nationally norm-referenced questions from Milestones.

If approved, the bill will bring the number of Georgia’s state-mandated tests closer to the number of federally-required tests.

A more detailed look at SB 367 is available in this analysis from PAGE’s legislative team.

The bill is set to be heard by the Senate Education and Youth Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Martin, on Monday.

-Claire Suggs
Your Input Needed on Educational Impact of Daylight Saving Time

The House State Planning & Community Affairs Committee is slated to hear HB 709 at 1 p.m. on Tues., Feb. 25. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) would require a nonbinding, state advisory referendum to determine whether Georgia should continue observing daylight saving time or should observe standard time year-round. Cantrell serves on the House Education Committee and is interested in the impact of daylight saving time on students and schools. Please submit your feedback on this issue to Margaret Ciccarelli at PAGE before Feb. 25 at mciccarelli@pageinc.org .

-Margaret Ciccarelli
Georgia School Nurses Association and Georgia STOMP Webinar for School Nurses on Feminine Hygiene Product Distribution
On Monday, Feb. 24 from noon to 1 p.m, the Georgia School Nurses Association and Georgia STOMP will hold a webinar for school nurses about the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) grant for feminine hygiene products. The webinar will also provide school nurses with best practices for distributing products to students. Participants will have an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions during the webinar. Registration for the webinar hosted by GaDOE is available at this link .

-Josh Stephens
Claire Suggs
Senior Education Policy Analyst
csuggs@pageinc.org
Josh Stephens
Legislative Affairs Specialist
jstephens@pageinc.org
Margaret Ciccarelli
Director of Legislative Services
mciccarelli@pageinc.org