March 9, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 26
Report Snapshot

Senate Scheduled to Vote Tomorrow Morning on Harmful School Voucher Bill - Your Help Needed

House Appropriations Cuts Proposed Educator Pay Raise from $2,000 to $1,000

PAGE Responds to Proposed Pay Raise Reduction & Proposed Income Tax Cut - Vote Expected Tomorrow – Contact Reps Now

COVID-19 Press Conference
Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, March 10 – Legislative Day 27

Wednesday, March 11 – Committee Work Day

Thursday, March 12 – Legislative Day 28/Crossover Day
Senate Scheduled to Vote Tomorrow Morning on Harmful School Voucher Bill - Your Help Needed

Highlights:

  • SB 386, a harmful expansion of a private school voucher program, is scheduled for a vote in Senate tomorrow morning

  • Contact your senator as soon as possible

SB 386 , a harmful expansion of the Special Needs Scholarship private school voucher program, is scheduled for a vote by the full Senate tomorrow, March 10. The bill will be the first considered by the Senate in the morning. The legislative day begins at 10 a.m. Read PAGE's analysis of SB 386 HERE .

Please contact your senator by phone or email today and ask your senator to VOTE NO on SB 386.

As always, educators should use their personal (not school) email address and electronic device, and contact policymakers outside of instructional time.

The most persuasive messages to legislators are personalized and demonstrate an educators’ commitment to the students they serve. Educators can use the following talking points in addition to personalized stories about their local school communities:

  • Loss of legal protections and support services: Private schools accepting the voucher 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. These students may also lose access to critical support staff available at public schools, including school nurses.

  • Lack of transparency and 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. Unlike public schools that must administer the Georgia Milestones, private schools receiving voucher funds choose their own assessments, which vary in quality. Private schools are not required to employ certified teachers.

  • Soaring costs hurt taxpayers: Georgia’s current special needs voucher costs taxpayers over $35 million yearly.This is on top of the $100 million the state sends to private schools every year under Georgia’s second voucher program, which is funded through tax credits. Private schools are not required to report how these dollars are spent or if the dollars are used to provide services for special needs students using the vouchers. The state auditor published a fiscal note on SB 386 indicating that program costs could increase as much as $28.5 million based on available information. 

$35 million + $100 million + $28.5 million = $163.5 million rerouted to private schools, each year 

  • Unfair to rural districts: The lack of access to private schools in rural Georgia would mean that SB 386 disproportionately targets urban districts over rural districts. Rural districts are coping with escalating student transportation costs, teacher shortages, stagnant tax bases and low economic growth. SB 386 does not help students in these districts.

For an in-depth survey of the history and current status of voucher programs in Georgia, tune into this podcast discussion with PAGE and GAEL (Georgia Association of Educational Leaders) and read PAGE's Pushing Public Dollars to Private Schools report.

-Josh Stephens
House Appropriations Cuts Proposed Educator Pay Raise from $2,000 to $1,000

Highlights:

  • House announces $1,000 cut to proposed $2,000 educator pay raise for 2020-2021 school year

  • Funding added for school counselors and proposed cuts to many other state services restored

The House Appropriations subcommittees met early this morning to discuss and pass House changes to the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget. Education subcommittee chair Robert Dickey (R-Musella) presented the K-12 budget and prefaced his comments by framing the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget (education begins on p. 52) as a direct reflection of the House’s support for students and educators. Dickey reported that Georgia’s school funding formula is fully funded for the third year in a row and that K-12 education makes up 44.3 percent of the state budget. He explained the need to balance educational needs with other state agencies that experience high rates of employee turnover. Dickey announced that his committee recommended cutting the $2,000 pay raise proposed by Gov. Kemp to $1,000, which, when combined with the $3,000 educator raise passed in 2019, amounts to an 11.7 percent raise in teacher base pay. He announced an increase in funding for school counselors, bringing the ratio of counselors and students to 1:450.

Other K-12 items announced in subcommittee today:

  • $1,000 pay raise for Georgia Pre-K lead teachers and a 3 percent raise for Pre-K assistant teachers

  • $4 million for an additional 1,000 Pre-K slots, bringing the state total to 85,000

  • Transfer of fund from the Chief Turnaround Office (CTO) back to the Georgia Department of Education’s School Improvement division, and elimination of remaining CTO funds 

  • $1,000 raise for certified educators beginning Sept. 1. Five percent raise for school bus drivers and school nutrition workers, and 2 percent raise for school nurses

  • $24.8 million for school counselors

  • Restoration of Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) funds

  • Restoration of $2 million in funding for state schools

  • Additional money for advanced placement exams--one for students eligible for free and reduced lunch and one test for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students

  • Funding for one field ethics investigator and one paralegal at the Georgia Professional Standards Commission

  • No changes to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS)

As the subcommittee concluded, the full House Appropriations Committee convened. Chair Terry England (R-Auburn) addressed the issue of the cut to the proposed educator pay raise. England pledged to reexamine the issue in 2021, fulfilling the pledged $5,000 educator raise during Kemp’s first term. England stated that though some educators may be disappointed, educators are also Georgia citizens and taxpayers and would have been impacted by the cuts to other state agencies initially proposed in the FY 2021 budget.

-Margaret Ciccarelli
PAGE Responds to Proposed Pay Raise Reduction & Proposed Income Tax Cut - Vote Expected Tomorrow – Contact Reps Now
Highlights:

  • PAGE speaks out in support of educator raises

  • House leadership announces proposed tax cut

  • Contact your representative now in support of the pay raise and sound tax policy

The PAGE legislative team has consistently advocated for the educator pay raise throughout the legislative session. Immediately upon adjournment of the Appropriations Committee, PAGE Executive Director Craig Harper issued the following statement.

As budget negotiations continue, we have been encouraged by Gov. Brian Kemp’s recognition of the critical role of educators to a prosperous Georgia and his strong commitment to a $2,000 pay raise. Forward progress on this issue is essential to maintaining highly qualified educators in schools and classrooms. We understand that lawmakers are juggling many difficult and worthwhile budget priorities this year as evidenced by today’s House recommendation to reduce the educator pay raise to $1,000. We strongly recommend that policymakers prioritize the full raise as budget negotiations move through the legislative process. We also request that lawmakers proceed cautiously when considering additional tax cuts during a time when the state has so many public service needs.

Around midday, House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) spoke to the Atlanta Press Club and announced a planned cut to Georgia’s income tax rate.

PAGE will continue to advocate for the pay increase and for responsible tax policy that enables Georgia to afford important state services, such as K-12 public education. For more, check out AJC coverage on the educator pay raise and the proposed tax cut .

The FY2021 budget is expected on the House floor tomorrow. In concert with PAGE advocacy, now is the time to contact your House member in support of the full $2,000 raise and sound tax policy. Educators should use their personal (not school) email address and electronic device, and contact policymakers outside of instructional time. The most persuasive messages to legislators are personalized and demonstrate the relationship between the pay raise and an educator’s ability to successfully serve students. Use your home address to lookup your House member’s contact info HERE .  

-Margaret Ciccarelli
COVID-19 Press Conference

Highlights :

  • Gov. Kemp, Richard Woods, and others brief the public on COVID-19

  • Fulton County Schools announces closure

  • Schools encouraged to follow hand washing protocols and consult with public health agencies

Later in the day, the governor, State School Superintendent Richard Woods, and others convened a press conference on COVID-19. Kemp reported that the state is not yet advising cancellation of public events, but is advising these guidelines:

  • Wash your hands

  • Avoid contact with your eyes and face

  • Get a flu shot

  • Don’t go out if you’re sick

  • Support your neighbors

  • Stay up-to-date regarding changing COVID-19 guidelines

Kemp referenced Fulton County Schools’ announcement that the district will close all schools due to a Fulton educator’s positive test for COVID-19 . He strongly encouraged all public schools to contact the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) when considering closure.

Woods voiced support for the decision to close Fulton schools and reiterated Kemp’s request that all school districts follow the guidance of GDPH and their local boards of health. Woods asked schools to ensure that students and staff have ample time to wash hands. He urged parents to keep sick students at home and teach students to properly wash their hands and stay at least three feet away from sick people. Sick school staff also need to stay home, he said, and he pointed to GADOE’s virus update resource page .

-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