February 28, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 21
Report Snapshot

Special Needs Private School Voucher Program Should Not Be Expanded Without An Evaluation

House Retirement Passes Teacher Return to Work Bill, Again





Upcoming Schedule

Monday, March 2 – Legislative Day 22

Senate Appropriations, 8 a.m., 341 CAP (FY 20 Budget Presentation)

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

Tuesday, March 3 – Legislative Day 23

House Academic Support, 2 p.m., 514 CLOB

House Academic Achievement, 3 p.m., 514 CLOB

Wednesday, March 4 - Legislative Day 24
Special Needs Private School Voucher Program Should Not Be Expanded Without An Evaluation

Highlights:

  • The Special Needs Scholarship voucher program has never been evaluated despite a $29 million price tag and over 10 years of operation.

  • Senate proposal would give access to private school vouchers to students with treatable and frequently temporary conditions including broken bones, food allergies, migraines, asthma, and diabetes, which can be supported by public school nurses.

  • The expansion would significantly increase the number of students required to give up rights provided to individuals with disabilities, including access to special education services and other accommodations, which are provided under federal law.
 
The Senate Education and Youth Committee is reviewing Senate Bill 386 , which would expand the Special Needs Scholarship private school voucher program. The special needs voucher program enables students with an Individualized Education Plan to use the state funds their resident public schools would have received to serve them to pay tuition at private schools. The program has never been evaluated, and available information is insufficient to determine whether it meets the needs of participating students. Given the negative impact voucher programs have had on student learning in other states, lawmakers should not move forward with an expansion without a comprehensive evaluation. The PAGE legislative team has prepared an analysis of SB 386 . Information about the committee’s initial discussion of the bill is available here , and information about PAGE’s action alert on it is available here .

-Claire Suggs
House Retirement Passes Teacher Return to Work Bill, Again

Highlights:

  • Committee passes return to work bill, allowing educators in some fields to draw TRS benefits and return to work full time, after waiting one year.

  • Educators allowed to return to work under the proposed law would need to teach in one of three areas of highest need, as determined for their RESA district.
  
  • Committee members disagree about accuracy of state audit assumption on the bill.

The House Retirement Committee met to consider several changes to HB 336, allowing teachers to return to work full time in public schools in designated highest need areas while drawing Teachers Retirement System (TRS) benefits. Eligible teachers would be required to wait a year before returning to work. The three highest need areas would be determined for each Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) district annually by the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) in consultation with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC). That determination would be based on a five-year average of survey data reported by local school districts. Teachers whose primary teaching field(s) are in the highest need areas in their RESA districts would be eligible to participate. If passed, HB 336 would sunset in 2025. 

HB 336 passed the committee earlier in the legislative session but was re-referred to House Retirement for changes. Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire) presented the newest version of HB 336 to the committee today. This version is not yet available on the state website as of publication PAGE’s Day 21 report, but images of the new bill are available HERE .

Blackmon explained that recent changes to the bill are intended to minimize any fiscal impact on TRS. “Frankly, this is more narrow than what passed out of here,” Blackmon said of the legislation. Committee member Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) asked Blackmon several questions about the state fiscal analysis on HB 336 , which indicated no cost to TRS. Martin expressed skepticism regarding the analysis and encouraged the committee to scrutinize the audit assumptions. “Something is broken in that process over the years. Mr. Evans says they have met their investment goals, yet still we have had to put money in TRS,” Martin said of the retirement fund and TRS Executive Director Buster Evans.

Martin’s comments prompted pushback from several members of the committee, including Rep. Dominic LaRiccia (R- Douglas) who defended the state analysis, “I think our audits are based on what the actual language of the bill says.”

The committee passed the bill. Martin, who has frequently expressed doubt regarding the health of TRS and is a proponent of converting the pension plan to a defined contribution, was the only dissenting vote.

HB 336 now moves to House Rules. If that committee schedules the bill for a House floor vote, the legislation will also need to pass the Senate and gain approval from Gov. Kemp, before becoming law. PAGE encourages educators to follow the progress of HB 336 but discourages educators from making retirement plans based on pending legislation, including HB 336.

-Margaret Ciccarelli

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