February 28, 2019
Legislative Session
Day 24
Report Snapshot

Controversial Private School Voucher Bill Passes Senate Finance

House Passes FY20 Budget & HB 68

House Education Assigns Legislation & Passes Two Bills

Academic Achievement Subcommittee Passes Teacher Evaluation Appeal & Recess Bill

Bill Exempting Schools from Paying Financing Costs for Georgia Power Held in Senate Regulated Industries

House Public Safety Subcommittee Passes School Bus Driver’s License Verification Legislation
Upcoming Events

Friday, March 1 – Legislative Day 25
Senate Ed, 8 a.m., 307 CLOB

Monday, March 2 – Legislative Day 26

Tuesday, March 3 – Legislative Day 27

Thursday, March 5 – Legislative Day 28/Crossover Day
Controversial Private School Voucher Bill Passes Senate Finance
The Senate Finance Committee passed a controversial private school voucher bill down party lines this afternoon. SB 173 (the substitute has not been posted at the time this report was published), sponsored by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), seeks to create Education Savings Account with public dollars to be used for private school tuition, tutoring, transportation costs, higher education costs, and other education-related expenses.
Before this afternoon’s full committee meeting, at which no public comment was allowed, at an early morning subcommittee hearing on SB 173, PAGE, the Georgia School Boards Association, the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute, Public Education Matters, and others testified against SB 173. All cited concerns over cost and data showing existing private school voucher programs fail to live up to their promise. Several parents testified in favor of SB 173 at the subcommittee hearing, expressing desire to use the voucher to attend religious schools. One man described his support for the legislation, stating that he and his wife would like to adopt children, but the low quality of their local public schools changed their minds. A representative from Americans for Prosperity closed out the subcommittee testimony, mentioning high rates of illiteracy in public schools. Video footage from the subcommittee hearing is unfortunately not available.

However, PAGE encourages concerned educators and stakeholders to watch the archived footage of today’s full committee hearing, HERE , starting at the 29 minute mark (an unrelated bill was discussed by the committee first). SB 173 was presented with the help of an advocate from an out-of-state pro-privatization advocacy group, ExcelinEd .

In particular, stakeholders may be interested in commentary at the following time codes:

  • 38:37 Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta) summarizing the early morning subcommittee report, Albers negates the need for a fiscal note on SB 173.

  • 47:50 Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), citing lines 72-82 of the bill regarding students living in poverty, special needs students, students adopted from foster care, and students who have been bullied, the senator said “I would think my local school boards could not handle a lot of the issues listed here.”

During the committee meeting on the bill, a fiscal note analyzing the predicted cost of the previous version of the bill was published HERE , showing state costs escalating up to $271.3 million by 2029. 

By a party line vote of 9/3, the committee voted to move the bill forward. Below is a tally of the committee’s voting record:

  • Chair did not vote: Hufstetler, Chuck
  • Y: Albers, John
  • Y: Payne , Chuck
  • Y: Black, Ellis
  • Y: Cowsert, Bill
  • Y: Hill, Jack
  • Y: Gooch, Steve
  • Y: Heath, Bill
  • N: Jackson, Lester
  • Y: Miller, Butch
  • N: Orrock, Nan
  • N: Rhett, Michael 'Doc'
  • Y: Thompson, Bruce

PAGE and other education groups will soon publish information about contacting policymakers regarding SB 173. Read our previous analysis of the legislation HERE , and please stay tuned to our Capitol Reports for more on the version of SB 173 passed by Senate Finance today, along with recommended advocacy action.

Read the AJC’s coverage HERE .
House Passes FY20 Budget & HB 68
The House passed the FY20 budget today (education begins on p. 39). It includes a $2,775 raise for certificated educators, including school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, media specialists, and special education specialists. When presenting the bill to the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week, committee chair Terry England (R-Auburn) explained that the House feels it is “particularly important” to keep all certified educators on the same pay scale and to include the educators who were not originally included. 

PAGE thanks the House Appropriations team for listening to educators across the state who encouraged the inclusion of school counselors and other certificated educators. The FY20 budget now moves to the Senate.

The House also passed HB 68 by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) which would prevent accrediting agencies from operating as student scholarship organizations (SSOs). When the bill was in committee, Carson explained that the legislation is an attempt to prevent potential conflicts of interest between private school accrediting organizations and student scholarships organizations (SSOs), which serve as pass through entities for Georgia’s tuition tax credit voucher program.
House Education Assigns Legislation & Passes Two Bills
Committee chair Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) convened today’s House Education Committee and several bills were assigned to subcommittee. 

  • Assigned to Academic Innovation: HB 421

The full committee then passed two bills, both of which now move to House Rules. 
HB 1 , sponsored by Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), which would rename Georgia’s special needs private school voucher program the “Senator Eric Johnson Scholarship Act.”

HB 12 , sponsored by Rep. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville), requiring schools to post, in clearly visible locations readily accessible to students, signs containing the telephone number operated by the Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of Human Services to receive reports of child abuse or neglect. The bill contains a hold harmless provision shielding schools from loss or damages caused by any act or omission resulting from posting, or the lack of posting.
Academic Achievement Subcommittee Passes Teacher Evaluation Appeal & Recess Bill
Immediately upon completion of full House Ed, the Academic Achievement subcommittee convened and passed the following bills, which now move back to the full committee for consideration:

  • HB 444, by Rep. Bert Reeves (R-Marietta), the Dual Enrollment Act, makes changes to Georgia’s dual enrollment program, which has grown in popularity and cost over the last decade. Among other changes, the legislation would cap dual credit courses at 30 hours for eligible high school students.

  • HB 83, by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge) encourages daily recess for K-5 students. PAGE testified in support of the legislation in today’s hearing. 

  • HB 86 by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) creates a right of appeal for tenured teachers who receive an unsatisfactory performance evaluation by requiring a review by an independent third party on behalf of the school official or local unit of administration, from the complainant's immediate supervisor to the central office administrator. PAGE testified in support of the legislation and offered to work with the Georgia Department of Education and other educator groups to craft changes to the bill or related State Board of Education policy.  

  • HB 464, by Rep. Martin Momtahan (R-Dallas), which would require local boards of education to include a public comment period at every meeting.
Bill Exempting Schools from Paying Financing Costs for Georgia Power Held in Senate Regulated Industries
The Senate Regulated Industries committee met Thursday afternoon to consider SB 112 by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta). The bill prohibits the Southern Company/Georgia Power from recovering financing costs for the construction of Plant Vogtle from public schools. PAGE’s Legislative Affairs Specialist Josh Stephens spoke in favor of SB 112 citing the critical need for funds that could be used to hire more educators in systems that purchase power from Georgia Power in turn leading to decreased class sizes. The committee held the bill without a vote.
House Public Safety Subcommittee Passes School Bus Driver’s License Verification Legislation
HB 459 by Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) creates a verification process for the driver’s licenses of school bus drivers. Currently, school boards are only required to verify licenses upon hiring a driver. HB 459 would create a system in the Department of Drivers Services that would check licenses two times a year in order to determine if a driver’s license has been suspended, revoked, or is expired. The local school board would then have the ability to revoke the driver’s authority to operate a school bus. The board would be allowed to reinstate this authority under certain circumstances. The bill passed the subcommittee unanimously.
Margaret Ciccarelli
Director of Legislative Services; Staff Attorney
Josh Stephens
Legislative Affairs Specialist