March 4, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 24
Report Snapshot

Senate Committee Approves Voucher Expansion Bill

House Committee Revises Proposed Student Loan Forgiveness Program for Teachers

Senate Committee Passes Teacher Evaluation Bill, Work-Based Learning Bill, and Others

Senate Committee Holds Bill Allowing Police Departments Operated by School Districts to Use Speed Detection Devices
Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, March 5 – Legislative Day 25

Senate Education and Youth, 8 a.m., 307 CLOB

House Higher Education, 11:30 a.m. or upon adjournment of the House, 406 CLOB

House Academic Achievement, 1 p.m., 606 CLOB

House Education, 1:15 p.m., 606 CLOB

Monday, March 6 – Legislative Day 26

House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 606 CLOB (The AFY 21 budget will be heard.)

Tuesday, March 7 – Legislative Day 27
Senate Committee Approves Voucher Expansion Bill

Highlights:

  • Senate Education and Youth Committee passes bill that aims to expand the special needs private school voucher program. 

  • Bill would provide vouchers to many students with Section 504 plans, although the program has not been evaluated, and the cost of the expansion has not been calculated. 

The Senate Education and Youth Committee approved SB 386 , which would increase the number of students eligible for the Special Needs Scholarship voucher program. The newest iteration of the bill is not yet available online, but PAGE has a copy of that version here . The bill’s author, Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), revised the eligibility requirements she initially proposed, though they remain broad. In the current version, students with Section 504 plans and a condition specified in the bill (e.g. autism, emotional or behavioral disorder) would qualify for a voucher to attend a private school. Students who have been diagnosed with an eligible condition by a physician or psychologist but do not have a 504 plan would also be able to access a private school voucher. The number of students who would be eligible for a voucher under these criteria is unknown. 

Several committee members flagged concerns about the proposed eligibility requirements. Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) noted that many of the eligible conditions are readily managed in public schools and do not require a different school setting for students. Some conditions are temporary, but the bill does not limit the duration of a student’s eligibility or require re-evaluation. Nor does it require a re-calculation of the voucher amount based on changes in participating students’ grade level under the state’s K-12 funding formula, the Quality Basic Education formula. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) suggested that eligible conditions should be confined to those that interfere with learning, not the broader standard of conditions that limit major life activities as currently defined. 

Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), the committee chair, allowed testimony from advocates who had not been heard at the committee’s previous meeting on the bill. PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli spoke in opposition to the bill, highlighting the loss of federal protections for students with disabilities who accept a voucher. She also noted the program has never been evaluated, and, while some information is available, there are significant information gaps. She called attention to the nurses in public schools who serve students with medical conditions, a resource many students will lose in switching to private schools. 

Representatives of several education organizations including the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL), the Georgia School Board Association (GSBA), the Georgia PTA, and a consortium of large school districts, also opposed the bill. Concerns raised include:

  • Inadequate accountability for the program

  • Financial impact on school districts, particularly rural districts

  • Limited information on the program’s impact on students

  • Lack of a fiscal note to determine state cost

The committee discussed these issues but did not revise the bill to address the concerns. 

T he committee passed SB 386   on a 6-4 vote.  It now moves to the Rules Committee, which determines when it will be voted on by the full Senate. 

PAGE does not support voucher programs that shift public funds to private schools. Expanding an unproven voucher program is not a fiscally responsible use of state funds. More information about the special needs voucher program as well as Georgia’s second private school voucher program (tax credit voucher) is available in this  report

-Claire Suggs
House Committee Revises Proposed Student Loan Forgiveness Program for Teachers

Highlights:

  • House Higher Education Committee reboots loan forgiveness program for teachers as a refundable tax credit.

  • Proposed program would target teachers in highest vacancy schools.

The House Higher Education Committee discussed  HB 736 , authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead). The bill initially created a student loan forgiveness program to serve 1,000 teachers in turnaround or rural schools, which are identified by the Georgia Department of Education as having high teacher vacancies. In its current iteration, the bill would provide a refundable tax credit of $3,000 for these teachers. Eligible teachers would be able to participate for up to five years. Committee members expressed support for the bill, but their discussion brought to light some language in the bill that requires clarification. The committee chair, Rep. Chuck Martin (R-Alpharetta) indicated that he will schedule a meeting tomorrow, Thursday, March 5, for a vote on the bill. 

-Claire Suggs 
Senate Committee Passes Teacher Evaluation Bill, Work-Based Learning Bill, and Others

Highlights:

  • Senate Education and Youth Committee passes bills to change teacher evaluation system, better define work-based learning opportunities for students, create guidelines for schools to distribute unused food, and prohibit graded homework assignments in grades K-2.

  • Committee hears a bill to change compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 as well as a bill that would allow schools to administer the ACT or SAT to all junior and senior high school students.

The Senate Education and Youth Committee held a second meeting this afternoon and passed four bills, which now move to Senate Rules:

SB 466  by Sen. Martin is PAGE-supported legislation that would make changes to Georgia’s teacher evaluation system. Tiffany Taylor, deputy superintendent of policy, flexibility, and external affairs at the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE), testified before the committee and explained that eliminating the “needs development” rating from the evaluation ratings that can trigger loss of certification would remove the punitive nature of that rating and help schools better support teachers. Currently, an educator who receives two "needs development" ratings in a five-year period could lose his or her certification. The bill also creates a pilot program for up to 10 school districts to create a new evaluation system. The pilot programs must provide embedded supports for educators, professional development opportunities, recognition and advancement for highly effective teachers, and the creation of a pathway for progression. The pilot will last up to five years. Margaret Ciccarelli with PAGE testified in support of the bill, explaining that eliminating the punitive nature of the “needs development” rating will allow school leaders to provide feedback that is more meaningful to educators who receive the rating. She also lauded the creation of a pilot program for districts to come up with new evaluation models, citing a needed change as the state continues its shift away from regulations created by Race to the Top, the grant-based waiver program for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the federal education law that was replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).The bill passed the committee unanimously.

SB 387  by Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) would require the State Board of Education to create guidelines for school districts to provide high-need students and families with unused food from school cafeterias and culinary programs operated by school districts through CTAE  programs. Jordan explained that the bill does not require schools districts to participate, but is intended to help districts navigate the complicated US Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for distributing unused food. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

SB 447  by Sen. Martin would create general definitions for work-based learning opportunities available to students, including apprenticeships, internships, and others. The goal of the legislation is to place the definitions of work-based learning in one place in Georgia law that is easily accessible. Martin anticipates that a study committee on work-based learning will pass the Senate in the coming days to begin looking at how to expand work-based learning programs in Georgia. The bill passed the committee unanimously. 

SB 398  by Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta) would prohibit educators from assigning graded homework assignments to students in grades K-2. According to Harrell, families should have greater control over how time is spent by students outside of school. She called the bill an example of local control. Harrell also explained that there are students who do not have family members or resources available to them outside of school to help with assignments that will affect the student’s grades. The bill passed the committee unanimously.

The committee heard the following bills but did not take a vote:

SB 343  by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) would raise the school mandatory attendance age for students from 16 to 17. Jackson explained that changing the mandatory attendance age would help reduce crime and bolster Georgia’s workforce. Jackson provided some of the data committee members requested at the previous hearing on the bill, but they requested more information than was provided. The committee did not vote on the bill. A representative of the School Social Workers Association of Georgia expressed concern with the bill and requested that a study committee be formed for legislators to determine what impact changing the compulsory attendance age would have on students and school systems.

SB 486  by Sen. Martin would allow schools to provide the SAT or ACT to all junior and senior high school students. The bill currently states that schools are required to provide these tests to all juniors and seniors, but Martin explained that this is not the intent of the legislation. He asked representatives from Georgia CAN and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the organizations that requested the bill, to work together on the bill overnight with an anticipated vote tomorrow morning.

-Josh Stephens
Senate Committee Holds Bill Allowing Police Departments Operated by School Districts to Use Speed Detection Devices

Highlight :

  • Senate Public Safety Committee hears bill that would allow police departments operated by local school districts to use radar to detect school zone speeders and issue citations.

The Senate Public Safety Committee heard  SB 458  by Sen. Tippins. The bill would allow local boards of education to approve the use of speed detection devices, mainly radar, in school zones. Cobb County Schools requested the legislation to enable the police department operated by the school system to use radar to detect speeding vehicles in school zones and issue citations. Cobb County Superintendent Chris Ragsdale assisted Tippins in presenting the bill, explaining that the system is not seeking a new way to collect revenue, as the fines collected would be distributed to the municipality or county in which the school resides and not the school system. Ragsdale explained that allowing school police departments to issue citations would help alleviate some safety concerns in school zones related to speeding vehicles. The committee did not take a vote after several members of the committee announced their worry as to how the bill would affect municipal and county police departments.

-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