February 24, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 17
Report Snapshot

ACTION ALERT: Contact Your Senators and Ask Them to Oppose Private School Vouchers

Senate Education and Youth Committee Passes Bill Cutting Back High Stakes Testing

Senate Passes Bill to Annually Review Tax Credits
Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, Feb. 25 - Legislative Day 18

House Academic Achievement Subcommittee, 2 p.m., 514 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 (SB 386, which would expand Georgia's Special Needs Scholarship voucher program, will be heard)

Senate Retirement, 4 p.m., Mezz 1, CAP

Thursday, Feb. 27 - Legislative Day 20

Friday, Feb. 28 - Legislative Day 21
ACTION ALERT: Contact Your Senators and Ask Them to Oppose Private School Vouchers

This Wednesday afternoon, Georgia lawmakers will consider a bill to expand one of Georgia’s two private school voucher programs. Senate Bill 386 , authored by Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), seeks to expand the Special Needs Scholarship, a voucher program for special education students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). If approved by the General Assembly, eligibility for the voucher program will be extended to students who have a Section 504 plan as well as those who have been adopted or placed in permanent guardianship from foster care. This expansion could lead to a significant increase in the number of students eligible for the private school voucher program. Criteria for Section 504 plans are much broader than required standards for an IEP. While some students with Section 504 plans have serious medical conditions, others get one for temporary concerns such as broken fingers or collarbones.

PAGE strongly opposes private school vouchers. They divert funds from public schools to private schools and have a poor track record on student learning. Additional concerns about the special needs voucher program include:

  • Lack of accountability. The special needs voucher program has never been evaluated although it has been in operation for over 10 years. Sending more students and more public money to an unproven program is not good policy.

  • Inadequate measure of student learning. Unlike public schools that must administer the Georgia Milestones, private schools receiving voucher funds choose their own assessments, which vary in quality.

  • Loss of legal protections. Private schools are not required to provide special education services to special needs voucher students. These students give up special education and Section 504 rights provided under federal law.

  • Uncertain teacher effectiveness. Public school teachers are required to be certified—they study how children learn, how to teach, and a content knowledge such as math, literature or science, and demonstrate their knowledge on state exams. Private school teachers are not required to meet this standard.

More information about SB 386 is available in the PAGE Day 16 Capitol Report . In addition, PAGE closely examined the special needs voucher program as well as Georgia’s second voucher program, the tax credit voucher program, in its report, Pushing Public Dollars to Private Schools .

The Senate Education and Youth Committee will hear SB 386 on Wednesday at 2 p.m. The committee is chaired by Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), who is co-sponsoring the bill.
-Claire Suggs
Contact Your Senator Today!

Now is the time to contact your senator and ask him or her to say no to SB 386. There are more effective ways to improve learning for Georgia’s students including increasing the number of school counselors and social workers, providing mentors to new teachers, and investing in high-poverty schools. Please use your personal (not school) email address and contact lawmakers outside of instructional time. You can look up your senator’s contact information using your home address HERE .

When communicating with lawmakers, it is most effective to frame messages in a positive and personal way and emphasize your commitment to meeting the needs of all students.

-Claire Suggs
Senate Education and Youth Committee Passes Bill Cutting Back High Stakes Testing

The Senate Education and Youth Committee approved Senate Bill 367 , authored by Sen. Martin. The bill would eliminate one state test for fifth graders as well as four state tests for high school students. If approved, SB 367 would move the testing period closer to the school year’s end for elementary and middle school students. It also calls for eliminating questions intended to measure Georgia students’ academic achievement against their peers in other states. Finally, SB 367 provides the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) the option of conducting an analysis of how school districts use locally implemented assessments. While the Milestones tests are given only once annually, districts often administer other assessments multiple times a year to track student learning and gauge their readiness for Milestones. The aim of the analysis is to help districts reduce duplication across tests and use them to more effectively support student learning. A full analysis of SB 367, prepared by PAGE, is available here .

State School Superintendent Richard Woods spoke in favor of the legislation, describing feedback that GaDOE and Gov. Brian Kemp’s office received from educators across Georgia during a listening session tour. Educators consistently expressed concern about the impact of high-stakes tests and an interest in reducing them. Woods said, “Reducing testing allows teachers to teach. The reduction of teachers’ ability to instruct has been evident. Students remember teachers. They do not remember tests.”

PAGE members have consistently expressed concern about the time devoted to testing and its impact on teaching and learning. Their concerns are reflected in PAGE’s 2020 legislative priorities, which include reducing the number of state tests .

PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli spoke in support of SB 367, sharing the following testimony with the committee:

“PAGE members have consistently expressed concern about the time devoted to standardized testing and the impact on teaching and learning. We are grateful for this responsive legislation that shifts the emphasis on testing and accountability closer to where it needs to be.

As the chairman said, more work needs to be done. 82.5 percent of elementary and middle school CCRPI scores are premised on standardized testing, and 70 percent of high school CCRPI scores are premised on testing.

In the vein of exploring what schools and districts should be accountable for, I would like to highlight True Accountability for Georgia Schools (TAGS), a grassroots accountability system that more closely involves parents and local communities. The seven TAGS pillars include student achievement, student readiness, community involvement, and other elements that I am happy to talk with each of you about soon.

Thank you again for this legislation.”

Other major education associations, including the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL), the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), and the Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), also spoke in favor of the bill, which passed the committee unanimously. The bill now moves to the Senate Rules committee, which will decide when the bill will be heard on the Senate floor.
-Josh Stephens
Senate Passes Bill to Annually Review Tax Credits

The Senate passed Senate Bill 302 by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) on Monday. The bill would create an evaluation process for state tax expenditures. These expenditures include tax credits, deductions, rebates and other mechanisms that reduce the state’s revenue. The chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee would each be able to request an analysis of up to five tax expenditures per year. The analyses would include any changes in state revenue and expenditures as well as other public benefits.

Click here to read more about SB 302 as reported by PAGE during the committee process.
-Josh Stephens
Claire Suggs
Senior Education Policy Analyst
Josh Stephens
Legislative Affairs Specialist
Margaret Ciccarelli
Director of Legislative Services