January 29, 2020

Legislative Session
Day 7
Report Snapshot

Lawmakers Debate Student Loan Forgiveness Bill for Teachers 

Education Agency Staff Describe Cuts to the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 Budget

Retirement Committee Hears Bill Allowing TRS to Invest in Alternative Investments

Register for PAGE Day on Capitol Hill
Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, Jan 30 - Legislative Day 8
House & Senate Joint Education Committee Meeting, 1 p.m., 606 CLOB

Senate Finance Committee, 2 p.m., Senate MEZZ 1 ( SB 302 , a bill that requires analysis of existing tax credits, is on the agenda.)

Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, 3 p.m., 450 CAP ( SB 298 , a bill providing protections for and education to minors regarding smoking and vaping, is on the agenda)

Friday, Jan 31 – Legislative Day 9
Lawmakers Debate Student Loan Forgiveness Bill for Teachers

Members of the House Higher Education Committee had a robust discussion about House Bill 736 , authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead). The bill’s aim is to create a student loan forgiveness program for new teachers in turnaround-eligible schools as well as schools in rural areas. Under the current version of the bill, 1,000 newly hired certified teachers in those schools could access up to $5,000 in student loan repayment annually.

Legislators’ questions touched on multiple topics including the need for strategies targeting veteran teachers and reaching a broader range of teachers such as those in high-demand subject areas or other low-performing schools, and the administrative costs of the program.

Florida offered a similar program for many years as one strategy to keep teachers in the classroom. An evaluation of the program concluded loan repayment is an effective retention tool, particularly at higher amounts.

Josh Stephens, PAGE legislative affairs specialist, spoke in support of the bill and offered to collaborate with lawmakers on this and other initiatives to attract and keep Georgia teachers in the classroom. Given the budget cuts proposed for the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY20) budget as well as the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget, it is uncertain how HB 736 would be funded.  The committee did not vote on the bill in order for Belton to meet with committee members on their suggested changes. 
Education Agency Staff Describe Cuts to the AFY20 Budget

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee heard from leaders of the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) and other state education agencies about proposed changes to their current budgets, the Amended Fiscal Year 2020 (AFY20) budget. (Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed AFY20 budget is available HERE .) While there are several increases in the department’s budget, most of the changes are in response to Gov. Kemp’s directive to cut the AFY20 budget by four percent. The state’s K-12 funding formula, the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, is exempt from the cut.

Ted Beck, chief financial officer of GaDOE, reported that funding for the QBE formula would increase approximately $145 million. Of that amount, about $114 million will go to school districts as part of their QBE allocation. This mostly reflects the growing proportion of students identified for additional services such as gifted, remedial and special education. Other additions include $18.3 million for state charter schools and $9.7 million for the Special Needs Scholarship, a private school voucher program for special education students.

Cuts to the AFY20 budcget total approximately $12.5 million according to Beck. Programs slated for cuts include:

  • Business and Finance Administration: -$553,088

  • Chief Turnaround Officer: -$593,532

  • Curriculum Development: -$221,968

  • Grants for Career, Technical and Agricultural Education and Technology equipment: -$80,000

  • Regional Education Service Agencies: -$582,720

  • School Improvement: -$789,283

Beck reported that the cuts will be managed primarily by not filling vacancies and reducing travel and other services that are not mission-critical.

Lawmakers expressed concern about the impact of the cuts, particularly the Chief Turnaround Office and School Improvement program, which provide support to persistently low-performing schools. Committee Chairman Robert Dickey (R-Musella) also questioned how state schools would fare under the proposed cuts.

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) and the Professional Standards Commission (PSC) are also managing budget cuts. Matt Arthur, executive secretary for the PSC, noted that his agency is also keeping vacant positions open and is reducing travel. He indicated that he does not anticipate the cuts will impact teachers seeking certification, but they may affect the certification appeals process.

Joy Hawkins, GOSA’s executive director, explained that the cuts extend the agency’s efforts to streamline its processes. The agency eliminated three positions as well as a grant program. The activities of the grant program have been incorporated into the Teacher Leadership Academy.

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee will meet again to vote on changes to the proposed budgets for these education agencies as well as the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (Bright from the Start). Their recommendations will then move to the full Appropriations Committee of the House. 
Retirement Committee Hears Bill Allowing TRS to Invest in Alternative Investments

The Senate Retirement Committee met today and discussed SB 294 by the committee's Chairman Ellis Black (R-Valdosta). The bill would allow the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) to invest up to five percent of the plan funds in alternative investments.

Buster Evans, executive director of the Teacher Retirement System, spoke favorably of the bill citing the good returns from alternative investments that the Employee Retirement System (ERS) has invested in for several years. He said that TRS has investment managers in place who have experience with alternative investments. Georgia’s TRS system is one of the only public employee retirement systems in the country not investing in alternative investments. Evans mentioned that the TRS board of trustees is generally supportive of the bill.

The committee did not vote on the bill at this meeting. 
Register for PAGE Day on Capitol Hill

PAGE Day on Capitol Hill is Tuesday, Feb. 18. We’re pleased to partner with the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL) and the Georgia Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (GACTE) again this year. Attendees will meet other politically minded educators from across the state and advocate for teachers and students under the Gold Dome. Please make your plans to attend and register HERE.

Claire Suggs
Senior Education Policy Analyst
Josh Stephens
Legislative Affairs Specialist