June 26, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 40, Sine Die
Report Snapshot

2020 Session Adjourns, Sine Die

Budget Squeeze Ahead for School Districts

Senate Approves Bill Ending University System Obligation to TRS

House Gives Final Approval to Education Bills
Upcoming Schedule

Legislature in Adjournment
2020 Session Adjourns, Sine Die

The 2020 Georgia legislature has adjourned, sine die. "Sine die" means "without a day" in Latin and marks the 40th and final day of the legislative session. This session was the most unusual in recent history as it was delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 threat.

Thanks to those of you who followed PAGE reports and took action during the legislative session. The PAGE legislative team is honored to serve you while you serve Georgia students.

PAGE will publish a comprehensive report on all 2020 bills in coming weeks.

-Margaret Ciccarelli
Budget Squeeze Ahead for School Districts

The General Assembly approved the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21), which includes a $950 million cut to the Quality Basic Education formula. Though steep, it is a smaller cut than initially expected. The reduced cut comes after Gov. Brian Kemp revised the state revenue estimate, forecasting a loss of $2.2 billion in FY21 instead of $2.6 billion. This adjustment, combined with an infusion of $250 million in state rainy day funds, lowered the cut applied to most state agencies to 10 percent from 11 percent. Lawmakers took a careful approach to cutting funds, keeping cuts to some programs below 10 percent and boosting funds for other programs.

Developed under the guidance of Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the FY21 budget fully funds enrollment growth and training and experience for educators under the QBE as well as the equalization program, which provides supplemental funds to low-wealth school districts. It also boosts funding for sparsity grants, which send additional dollars to small schools in rural communities. A proposed cut to student transportation was eliminated. This is a valuable addition as the state covers less than 15 percent of districts’ student transportation costs. Proposed cuts to school nurses and Advanced Placement exams are also restored.

Budget Highlights

Additions:

  • $141 million for enrollment growth and educator training and experience

  • $32 million for equalization

  • $32 million for State Commission Charter School supplement

  • $229,109 for charter system grants

  • $927,142 for student transportation enrollment growth

  • $1 million for sparsity grants

  • $220,949 for RESA enrollment growth

  • $303,780 for one AP exam for free and reduced lunch eligible students and one AP STEM exam per student

  • $20 million in bonds for bus replacement

  • $7.8 million in bonds for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education equipment

  • $1.1 million in bonds for agricultural education equipment

Reductions:

  • $950 million cut to QBE

  • $2 million cut to CTAE equipment and film and audio equipment grants.

  • $4.2 million cut to Preschool Disabilities Services grants, an 11 percent reduction

  • $904,191 cut to differentiated pay for newly certified math and science teachers

  • $700,000 cut to feminine hygiene grants, remaining funds directed to districts with high percentages of students eligible for free and reduced lunch program

  • $1.5 million cut to Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) for grants and consulting services

  • $1.1 million cut to Extended Day/Year, Vocational Supervisors, Industry Certification and Youth Apprenticeship Program

  • $400,000 cut from Testing for training and outreach on formative instructive practices

  • $5 million reduction due to credit for not administering the 2020 Milestones exam

The Chief Turnaround Office (CTO) is eliminated, a total reduction of $2.2 million. A portion of these funds—$700,000—is redirected to the School Improvement Program, which has taken over the work of the CTO. This reallocation will partially offset cuts that top $800,000 to school improvement.

Funding for other education agencies is also cut. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement will see its funding fall by nearly half, but core programs are preserved, including the Governors Honors Program, the Master Teacher Leadership Academy Growing Readers, and the GA Awards Program. More than $12 million of GOSA's funds are shifted to GaDOE. 

The lottery-funded pre-kindergarten program will get an additional $1.6 million for the teacher supplement and $160,000 to add two behavioral support specialists to support teachers. It will lose $268,851 for a research study on the impact of the pre-K program.

The impact of the cuts will vary based on the circumstances and needs of each district. Districts that rely more heavily on state funding may face greater challenges absorbing these cuts than those with higher reliance on local funds. Districts will determine how to implement the cuts. GaDOE will not direct them.

In their discussion of the budget, legislators highlighted the $411 million in federal CARES Act funds, which most districts received. These funds are distributed based on the proportion of federal Title I funds districts receive. They are to help districts cover increased costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as providing devices to students for remote learning, school meals, additional support for at-risk students, personal protective equipment, and facility and equipment cleaning. The funds can also be used to offset budget reductions. 

-Claire Suggs
Senate Approves Bill Ending University System Obligation to TRS

Highlights:

  • Bill would end university system's statutory obligation to TRS.

The Senate approved HB 292 by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), which would remove a statutory requirement that the University System of Georgia (USG) make payment to the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) for participants in USG’s Optional Retirement Plan (ORP), which was created in 1990. A 2019 state audit indicated USG failed to pay TRS approximately $600 million. The payments, which ended at the recommendation of a TRS actuary in 2001, were intended to prevent retiree pension costs from being borne by the state or local school districts.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) expressed concern with eliminating the USG payment to TRS and asked that the bill be tabled. However, the motion to table failed, and the Senate approved the bill. The bill now awaits Gov. Kemp’s signature.

For more, check out the PAGE Capitol Report from Day 6 of the legislative session and the AJC’S report from February.

 -Josh Stephens
House Gives Final Approval to Education Bills

Highlights:

  • Foster Care IEP bill passes.

  • School district audit exception bill is "Christmas treed" when CTO, evaluation appeal, and school board public comment provisions are added.

  • Breast pumping bill passes.

The House agreed to the Senate’s changes to HB 855 by Rep. Marcus Wiedower. The bill would allow for the immediate assessment of students who enter foster care to determine if they qualify for an individualized education plan (IEP). The students would continue to be required to qualify for IEPs to receive services, but the process would begin more quickly. The change will become effective on Aug. 1, 2021. The bill now awaits Gov. Kemp’s signature.

The House agreed to the conference committee report for SB 68 by Sen. Freddie Sims (D-Dawson). The bill, which carried over from the 2019 legislative session, incorporates recommendations from the Senate Study Committee on Continual Audit Exceptions on Local School Systems , and became a vehicle for several other bills which were tacked on. SB 68 now includes language from HB 32 by. Rep Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), which seeks to reorganize Georgia’s Chief Turnaround Office (CTO) and HB 86 by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), which seeks to create an appeals process for teachers who have accepted their fourth or subsequent consecutive contract with the same school district and receive an evaluation with a performance rating of unsatisfactory, or ineffective. SB 68 also now includes HB 464 by Rep. Martin Momtahan (R-Dallas), which requires a public comment period at each local board of education meeting. The bill now moves on to Gov. Kemp.

The House also passed HB 86 by Rep. Benton, which contains the same evaluation appeal process described above and approved in SB 68. The bill moves on to Gov. Kemp for his signature.

The House approved Senate changes to HB 1090 today. The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) and mandates that employers provide a paid break of “reasonable time and duration” to allow employees to express breast milk. Employers must provide a private location, other than a restroom, where employees can do so. Employers with fewer than fifty employees are not subject to the requirement if it imposes undue hardship. The bill now moves to Kemp's desk.

-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