June 15, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 30
Report Snapshot

Legislators Prepare for Budget Discussion as 2020 Session Resumes

Senate Education Committee Updated ​on School Reopening by Georgia Department of Education
Upcoming Schedule

Tuesday, June 16 – Legislative Day 31

House Retirement, 2 p.m., 406 CLOB

Wednesday, June 17 - Legislative Day 32

Senate Appropriations, 8 a.m., 341 CAP

Senate Education & Youth, 2:15 p.m., 307 CLOB

House Education, 2:30 p.m., 406 CLOB

Senate Retirement, 4:45 p..m., Mezz 1
Legislators Prepare for Budget Discussion as 2020 Session Resumes

Amid an unprecedented pandemic and large-scale protests, the Georgia legislature reconvened today for Day 30 of the 2020 session. Their biggest task is completing the Fiscal Year 2021 budget. As they got to work today, lawmakers entering the Gold Dome, as well as staff and visitors, had their temperatures measured; most wore masks. A mobile COVID-19 unit provided on-site virus testing.

Speaker of the House David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) welcomed representatives and thanked the bipartisan committee that developed House safety protocols. Ralston reminded House members that masks are required for admission to the House chamber and encouraged members to conduct side conversations in a socially distant fashion.

House Education Committee member Randy Nix (R-LaGrange), a Methodist minister, provided the House invocation, referencing more than 24,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia and the tragic deaths of African Americans in Georgia and elsewhere which have inspired waves of protests in Atlanta that Nix characterized as both peaceful and violent.

The Senate began the day with several senators from both sides of the aisle urging for the passage of hate crime legislation before the session ends.

The legislature’s most pressing order of business is to pass the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which will become effective July 1. The FY 2021 budget is expected to contain deep cuts to K-12 education and all state agencies, due to the COVID-19-related economic downturn. Other bills are expected to be considered, as well, and committee meetings are scheduled throughout the upcoming week. Space in committee rooms is limited due to social distancing rules; therefore, all meetings are slated to stream on the legislative website. House meetings are available HERE , and Senate meetings are available HERE . PAGE lobbyists are on site at the Capitol and will be advocating throughout the remainder of the session on behalf of PAGE members and Georgia students.

-Margaret Ciccarelli
Senate Education Committee Updated ​on School Reopening by Georgia Department of Education

Highlights:

  • Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) released guidance for districts on re-opening schools.

  • Lack of instructional devices and internet connectivity were significant barriers to student learning during the school closures. 

  • Ensuring students have access to nutritious meals remains a priority for GaDOE and school districts.

  • Committee will likely hold its final meeting on Wednesday, June 17.
 
Georgia Department of Education staff updated the Senate Education and Youth Committee at the committee’s June 15 meeting on steps the department took to support districts during school closures . Staff also shared how they are preparing to support re-opening this fall. GaDOE has taken a "whole child" approach to ensure students’ non-academic needs are addressed as well as their academic needs.
 
Tiffany Taylor, deputy superintendent for policy, flexibility and external affairs, provided an overview of the department’s actions during and since the school closures, including maximizing flexibility to help districts adapt to rapidly changing needs such as suspending Milestones assessments. She described school re-opening guidance , which GaDOE developed with the Georgia Department of Public Health. Taylor noted that districts will set their own reopening plans based on their local needs and circumstances. GaDOE will not determine when and how districts reopen.
 
Dr. Linette Dodson, state director of the school nutrition program, highlighted the efforts of districts across the state to continue providing meals to students, many of whom rely on school meals as their primary food source. She said the cost of providing the meals was higher than normal due to additional packaging, staffing and other health and safety requirements.
 
Chris Shealy, director of technology services, described barriers to online learning that surfaced during the closures, which GaDOE is working to address. The department surveyed districts and found that 528,000 devices and 187,000 MiFi, or portable broadband devices, are needed to ensure students across Georgia can access online instruction. GaDOE has responded in multiple ways, including allocating grant funds to low-performing schools to secure devices for students, working with telecommunication companies to provide more affordable internet data plans, and offering data support to districts to help them identify internet connectivity gaps in their districts and address them. Shealy noted that this is a particular challenge in rural communities such as districts in southwest Georgia, which lack broadband infrastructure in many areas. 
PAGE reported similar challenges with online instruction based on member feedback to a survey on the impact of school closures. The PAGE legislative team shared these findings with legislators.
 
Sen. P.K. Martin (R-Lawrenceville), chair of the committee, announced that the committee’s final meeting will likely be on Wednesday, June 17. The meeting agenda has not yet been posted.

-Claire Suggs

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