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2023 Legislative Session Summary

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

The 2023 legislative session yielded needed educator and student assistance through a pay raise for teachers and other certified staff, increased investment in educator health insurance, and more funding for school safety and school counselors. Two bills intended to improve literacy instruction won bipartisan lawmaker approval. A high-profile bill to create Georgia’s third private school voucher program, which would have undermined public education services, was narrowly defeated. Guided by the PAGE 2023 Legislative Priorities, the PAGE Legislative Department advocated on behalf of PAGE members and Georgia students under the Gold Dome at the Georgia Capitol.


This report highlights education-related legislation that passed the General Assembly, provides an overview of the state K-12 education budget, and identifies notable bills that were not approved. It also provides links to lawmakers’ voting records on the private school voucher bill. Voting records for all legislation are available by following the links below to bill summary pages on the Georgia General Assembly website.


Approved legislation becomes effective July 1, 2023, unless another date is specified within the bill, or is vetoed by the governor. As 2023 is the first year of Georgia’s legislative biennium, bills which did not pass this session are eligible for passage in 2024. In early May, Gov. Brian Kemp issued several budgetary line-item vetoes and disregard statements, which direct state agencies to disregard spending directions in the state budget. Kemp’s disregard statements apply to several items in the Department of Education’s budget, including funds for a supplement for school custodians, school meals, and charter school facilities. A complete listing of the governor’s budget vetoes and disregard statements is available here. PAGE’s budget summary below reflects Kemp’s actions.


Approved Legislation


Literacy Instruction


HB 538, by Rep. Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins), the Georgia Early Literacy Act, is designed to increase the number of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade. The legislation mandates a number of reforms at the state and local school district level. The Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) is directed to ensure childcare providers offer developmentally appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction. The act requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to establish a uniform literacy measurement standard, approve a list of reading screeners and high-quality K-3 instructional materials, and adopt a formative reading assessment for students in first and second grades.


The Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) is tasked with developing or acquiring K-3 teacher training on the science of reading, structured literacy, and foundational literacy skills, which all K-3 Georgia teachers will be required to complete. GaDOE will provide a related annual report. Former PAGE President Amy Denty has been named as the director of literacy at GaDOE to help guide these efforts.


HB 538 requires local school districts to approve high-quality K-3 instructional material and administer a universal reading screener three times per year to K-3 students. Districts must provide screening results to parents and GaDOE. The act mandates tiered reading intervention plans for students with significant reading deficiencies. These requirements cannot be waived under districts’ flexibility contracts.


The Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) will revise standards for acquiring and maintaining teacher certification in all teaching fields to include developmentally appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction. GaPSC is tasked with ensuring students completing teacher certification programs have the knowledge and skills to teach reading. A last-minute amendment to the bill also directs GaPSC to consider out-of-state teacher certification programs.


SB 211, by Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), establishes the Georgia Council on Literacy to set new school district improvement requirements and oversight mechanisms. The council is tasked with reviewing best practices in literacy instruction from other states, work with GaDOE and SBOE to implement requirements of early literacy requirements, as well as making recommendations for improving literacy rates among low-income students, minority students, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) students, and students with characteristics of dyslexia.


The council will also:

  • Monitor statewide literacy goals and measures, and provide an annual report to the SBOE

  • Review changes to Georgia’s school funding formula to enhance literacy instruction

  • Review problems related to state literacy outcomes, make recommendations for legislation and appropriations to support improving such outcomes, and annually provide a report of such review to the state leaders

  • Review and make recommendations to align teacher certification with evidence-based literacy instruction and education degree program requirements

  • Review and make recommendations for professional development for Pre-K through third grade teachers

The 30-member council will be composed of legislators and SBOE members as well as seven individuals with knowledge, skills, and experience in literacy or dyslexia education and two individuals with knowledge, skills, and experience in birth to 5-year-old early learning. The council will be attached to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), which will provide staff support.


Planning Time


HB 340, by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), provides for daily planning periods for K-12 teachers. Teachers entitled to planning periods could be required to supervise students during planning no more than once a week, except when necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff. Though PAGE voiced concern during the legislative process, the planning period requirement in HB 340 is waivable by local districts under their strategic waiver and charter district contracts with the state.


HB 340 received bipartisan support when considered on the floor in the House and Senate. It was amended late in the session to extend the public education tax credit until 2026 and revise arbitration in school accreditation appeals processes. Lawmakers also added SB 98, prohibiting local school board members from discussing individual personnel matters with local school superintendents, school administrators, teachers, or other school personnel, except as provided by law. The referral of a personnel matter to the local school superintendent is not prohibited.


School Safety


HB 147, by Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville), creates school safety and anti-gang endorsements for eligible certificated professional personnel. This bill was carried by Wade as the governor's floor leader and is referenced as the Safe Schools Act. It directs the GaPSC, in consultation with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) and other state agencies, to collaborate on the content for the endorsements.


The act encourages postsecondary educational institutions with GaPSC teacher certification programs to include training in safe schools and deterring youth gangs. It mandates that school safety plans, which are already annually required, be submitted to GEMA. Schools are required to conduct intruder alert drills for students, school administrators, teachers, and other school personnel by October of each school year. Local school districts may allow parents to opt their children out of the drills by written notification.


Accreditation


SB 204, by Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), requires agencies that accredit public schools in Georgia to meet benchmark criteria established by the SBOE. The criteria used by accrediting agencies to evaluate public schools and districts must include measures of teaching quality and learning, disaggregated for all student groups, as well as indicators of financial efficiency.


Accreditors operating in Georgia must meet criteria deemed appropriate by the SBOE, including rigorous and appropriate measures of the quality of teaching and learning in public schools or school systems. At least 65 percent of accreditation criteria must be based on student learning and also include a measure of financial efficiency.


SB 204 outlines procedures for adverse or remedial accreditor action, including mediation procedures and appeals to the SBOE. The SBOE is authorized to determine whether an accreditor is compliant. Failure to comply could disqualify accreditors from operating in Georgia. Failure of a public school or school system to comply with a SBOE final ruling could cause the school or school system to be placed on probationary accreditation status until compliance is achieved.


Alternative Schools


HB 87, by Rep. Chris Erwin (R-Homer), the Completion Special Schools Act, creates a new category of state special schools and attendance zones for charter high schools serving students at risk for dropping out or who have already dropped out. There are currently three of these schools, Mountain Education, Foothills, and Coastal Plains charter schools, which each serve multiple school districts. Though the legislation allows the three schools to continue operating, HB 87 reduces the schools’ funding from current levels.


The SBOE will adopt policies and procedures to establish, fund, and operate the special schools. Subject to appropriation, the SBOE is authorized to provide up to $5 million in grant funding for development of new completion special schools.


Other Education Legislation Which Passed


HB 402, by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), requires school districts to annually provide parents or guardians with information on the importance of water safety education courses and swimming lessons. Students who are 18 years or older will be provided the information directly. The bill also requires schools to provide information about available swim instruction in the area.


HB 440, from Rep. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), allows schools to keep a supply of glucagon on hand in case a diabetic student needs it. Schools may enter into arrangements with glucagon manufacturers or third-party suppliers in order to obtain it.


SB 1, by Sen. Dolezal, prevents many state government agencies, including schools, from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations as a condition of entry.


SB 45, by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas), known as “A.J.’s Law,” requires creation and implementation of seizure action plans for students with epilepsy or seizure disorders. The action plans will be developed by students’ parents or guardians and physicians responsible for students’ treatment. Plans will outline supports and services students need at school or while participating in school-related functions and outline specific directions for emergencies.


The legislation requires school nurses or, in the absence of school nurses, trained seizure action plan personnel, to be onsite at schools where students with seizure action plans are enrolled. Designated staff must be available during regular school hours to provide support and services to students in accordance with students’ seizure action plans. If school nurses or trained designated personnel are unavailable, other school personnel are authorized to commence emergency procedures.


SB 86, by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), allows eligible students participating in the Dual Enrollment program to access HOPE funds for certain College, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) courses, irrespective of whether they have reached maximum credit hour caps. The legislation also contains reporting requirements on the success of the Dual Enrollment program.


SR 175, also by Sen. Brass, creates the Joint Study Committee on Dual Enrollment for Highly Skilled Talent at Younger Ages.


Budget Analysis


Please note this section has been updated to reflect budgetary line-item veto and disregard statements issued by Gov. Kemp May 5, 2023.


Lawmakers made critical investments in public education during the 2023 legislative session, but longstanding financial challenges in several areas continue. Areas of increased investment include salary and health insurance for certified staff, school counselors, and one-time school safety grants. Funding gaps persist in transportation, school support staff, paraprofessionals, school safety, and other areas.


Legislators approved the $2,000 pay raise for certified staff proposed by Kemp in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget, which begins on July 1. This follows a pay raise of $3,000 in FY 2020 and $2,000 in FY 2023 and is much-needed progress to bolster the competitiveness of Georgia educators’ salaries. Educators went without a state pay raise between Fiscal Years 2010 and 2017. Pre-kindergarten lead and assistant teachers will also receive the $2,000 raise for FY 2024.


Lawmakers boosted the state’s contribution to the wages of school nurses, bus drivers, nutrition staff, and RESA staff by 5.1 percent.


With expenditures for the State Health Benefit Plan outpacing its revenue, lawmakers added $846.4 million to the FY 2024 budget for the health plan. The additional amount covers a hike in the employer share of the monthly SHBP cost for each participating certified staff member to $1,580, an increase of $635 from the previous amount. The employer's share of SHPB monthly costs is also rising to $1,580 for non-certified school staff members. Local districts will cover this increase, which will be phased in over two years, starting January 1, 2024. The total cost for school districts when the increase for non-certified staff members is fully implemented is estimated to be approximately $450 million.


The General Assembly bumped the benefit multiplier for members of the Public Schools Employees Retirement System (PSERS) to $16.50, up from $16.00, and added $2.8 million to the FY 2024 budget to cover the increase.


Lawmakers funded school counselors for special education and gifted students with an addition of nearly $27 million. The state had not provided funds for counselors for these students, a gap PAGE members flagged repeatedly in recent years in discussions about student mental health and well-being. Securing funding for counselors for these students has been a PAGE legislative priority for several years.


In the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2023 budget, legislators approved $50,000 safety grants for each school. PAGE, in collaboration with the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL), Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), and Georgia School Superintendents Association (GSSA), has highlighted school safety as an area where additional investment is needed.


Other additions to the FY 2024 budget include:

  • $3.5 million for dyslexia screening required in the 2024-2025 school year

  • $13.3 million for State Commission Charter School supplements

  • $262,000 for Communities in Schools for additional affiliates

The budget also includes $250,000 for the Georgia Council on Literacy, which is established under SB 211, and $750,000 to support implementation of effective literacy methods, including a digital curriculum for Pre-K through Grade 5. It does not contain funds to implement changes in literacy instruction contained in HB 538, which requires the administration of a universal reading screener to all K-3 students three times each year and requires onsite K-3 teacher training in literacy instruction.


Education funding increases are valuable and appreciated, but shortfalls remain in other areas, squeezing districts’ budgets. These include:


Student Transportation: The portion of student transportation costs covered by the state has shrunk from about 50 percent in the 1990s to less than 15 percent, at present. In FY 2022, the state provided $163 million for transportation operating costs with districts spending nearly $980 million more to bus students to and from school [1]. This expense, which often falls harder on rural districts, limits districts’ investment of local funds in classrooms and on other district needs.

School Counselors & Other Support Staff: School counselors are funded at a ratio of 1 counselor for 450 students, above the 1 to 250 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association [2]. The state funds one school social worker and one school psychologist for every 2,475 students, exceeding the recommended ratios of 1 to 250 students for social workers and 1 to 500 for psychologists [3] [4].


Paraprofessionals: The state allocates funding for paraprofessionals only for kindergarten students, and the amount it provides to districts to cover a paraprofessional’s salary is $15,738 in FY 2023. This low salary level is a significant factor in turnover among paraprofessionals. More information about paraprofessionals is available from PAGE HERE.


School Safety: The state has provided periodic grants to offset school safety costs, but the state does not provide annual funding for ongoing safety costs. These critical expenditures include school resources officers, enhanced school security systems, and annual staff training, which districts must cover with local funds.

PAGE will continue advocating for additional state investment in these and other areas to ensure students have resources needed to succeed academically.


Notable Education Bills Which Did Not Pass


Perhaps more than in any other year in recent memory, the story of the 2023 legislative session is about what did not pass—including a bill to create Georgia’s third private school voucher program. Many education and non-education bills were ensnared in political gamesmanship over the voucher legislation. The private school voucher push evolved into a must-watch debate over how to best help Georgia students and was fueled in part by Gov. Kemp’s last-minute endorsement of the voucher bill, SB 233. The legislation is very likely to be revived in the 2024 session as 2023 was the first year of Georgia’s two-year legislative cycle. What follows is a summary of bills that did not pass in 2023.


Vouchers & School Choice The ongoing battle to expand public expenditure on non-public education focused on SB 233, by Sen. Dolezal, which seeks to create a new private school voucher program called an education savings account (ESA). ESAs would send $6,500 to each participating students’ family every year. The program would join the state’s two existing voucher programs, which carry a combined price tag of about $150 million annually. CLICK HERE for PAGE’s detailed summary of SB 233.


After extensive advocacy from both sides of the issue and Kemp’s endorsement of the bill, the House moved to vote on SB 233 on the evening of Sine Die, the last night of the session. After robust debate, the House rejected the bill by a vote of 85-89. All Democrats, except Rep. Mesha Mainor (D-Atlanta), and a group of rural Republicans voted against the measure. The House quickly approved a vote to reconsider the bill, leaving it eligible to pass in 2024.


Educators concerned about SB 233 should continue speaking with their House and Senate members about the importance of preserving funding for public schools and encouraging them to vote “No” on SB 233 when the bill is brought up in 2024. Please also thank members who voted no in 2023.


House Voting Record on SB 233


Senate Voting Record on SB 233

Legislators also contemplated expanding Georgia’s tuition tax credit private school voucher with two bills, both of which PAGE opposes.


HB 54, by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), seeks to expand the existing $120 million annual tax credit voucher program to $200 million annually. The program lacks transparency and accountability measures, according to a recent audit by the Georgia Department of Audits and Account, which laid out a series of recommendations to bolster legislative oversight.


HB 101, by Rep. Clint Crowe (R-Jackson), would expand the cap on the tuition tax credit voucher from $120 million to $130 million annually.


Harmful Materials and Technology SB 154, by Sen. Dolezal (R-Cumming), would remove public school librarians from the current exemption in state law protecting them from criminal prosecution for sharing materials considered sexually explicit. Librarians could face a misdemeanor charge of “a high an aggravated nature.” PAGE opposes SB 154.


HB 338, by Rep. Erwin, chair of the House Education Committee, would create the “Student Technology Protection Act,” and updates definitions of child pornography, content harmful to minors, obscene materials, and technology protection measures. The legislation aims to filter, in an age-appropriate manner, content accessible to students on publicly funded laptops and devices distributed to students. The act requires local districts to update internet acceptable use policies, including setting appropriate measures for violation of the policies as well as creation of parent complaint processes for alleged violation of the policies. GaDOE would compile a list of vendors for internet filters in coordination with the Department of Administrative Services to assist districts with selecting appropriate filters.


School Safety While legislators approved Gov. Kemp’s school safety bill, other bills that address school safety did not pass this year, including:


HB 469, by Rep. Penny Houston (R-Nashville), would require schools to create detailed and accurate school building plans, school property site plans, and crisis response mapping data to be shared with local law enforcement to aid emergency services in navigating schools during emergency situations.

SB 32, by Sen. Anavitarte, “Alyssa’s Law,” would require school systems to implement a mobile panic alert system capable of connecting in real-time to local law enforcement. During committee hearings, Anavitarte said districts could fund the system using the $50,000 school safety security grants included in the FY 2024 budget.


Gender Identity


SB 88, sponsored by Sen. Carden Summers (R-Cordele), would require each local school district to develop policies providing direction and guidance to school employees regarding parental involvement and child privacy on issues of gender identity. This policy would be required to address:

  • Incorporation of appropriate parental involvement when a student approaches employees while at school with questions about gender identity or when a student expresses a desire to present a gender identity other than that congruent with the student’s biological sex

  • School employee initiation of conversations regarding gender identity

  • School staff referral of students with gender identity questions to a school counselor, social worker, or other professional

The SBOE would publish guidance for implementation of the school system policy requirement. SB 88 also requires that schools obtain parental permission before changing a student’s name, sex, or gender in official school records, and the legislation contains penalties for violation including withholding school funds and loss of educator certification.


Based on feedback from the education community and PAGE, SB 88 was heavily revised to expressly state that nothing in it should be construed to negate educator Mandated Reporter obligations, and it no longer contains references to sexual orientation or educator attire.


Transportation HB 51, by Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn), would allow school districts to transport students in vehicles other than school buses. Currently, this transportation option is open only to students experiencing homelessness and special education students. The SBOE would be responsible for setting the minimum standards for vehicles and drivers.


HB 348, by Rep. J Collins (R-Villa Rica), seeks to change components of school speed zones operation, including the use of speed cameras and related penalties and fees. Cameras would be authorized to monitor speeds 60 minutes before and 30 minutes after the start of the school day, and 30 minutes before and 60 minutes after school dismissal. The bill also establishes that municipal or county governments, which are responsible for the roads, install and use the cameras. HB 348 and HB 301, by Rep. Jason Ridley (R-Chatsworth), which would cap penalty fines and fees for violation of improperly passing a school bus or speeding in a school zone, were added to SB 217. None of the three bills made it across the 2023 Sine Die finish line.

Other Education-Related Bills Which Did Not Pass


House

  • HB 32, by Rep. Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge), would mandate that video review be made available in high school football championship games.

  • HB 141, by Rep. Mainor, seeks to require schools to conduct suicide screenings on all students ages 8 through 18.

  • HB 174, by Rep. Patty Bentley (R-Butler), would require that schools provide information to parents and guardians of sixth graders about the availability of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer. Bentley has stressed that her legislation is not a vaccine mandate and has referenced high rates of cervical cancer among African American women in her rural Georgia area.

  • HB 238, by Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta), seeks to create a school bus monitor pilot program.

  • HB 318, by Rep. Hilton, would establish the Office of Charter School Compliance within the State Charter Schools Commission and shifts responsibility for supporting locally approved charter schools from GaDOE to the compliance office. The bill would also establish the Office of District Flexibility at GaDOE to support charter systems.

  • HB 504, by Rep. Matt Hatchett (R-Dublin), would change the calculation of freeport exemptions and local five mill shares.

  • HB 537, by Rep. Becky Evans (D-Atlanta), would direct the GaPSC to require that teacher education programs include mandatory coursework in age-appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction and require the GaPSC to revise teacher certification standards to include age-appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction.

Senate

  • SB 4, by Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), the “Blind Person’s Braille Literacy Rights and Education Act,” would require evaluation of blind or visually impaired students to determine their need for Braille instruction. It also requires Braille instruction in the individualized education program of a blind or visually impaired student, if necessary.

  • SB 50, by Sen. Max Burns (R-Sylvester), seeks to allow schools to provide instruction in life guarding and aquatic safety for students in grades 9 through 12. The bill does not mandate that schools offer the program. The course would count as a half credit for students who complete the program.

  • SB 123, by Sen. Anavitarte, would require school districts to offer the SAT, ACT, and ASVAB during school hours, free of charge for students. Testing would be offered to students in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), as well. Students would not be required to take the tests. In order be to fully enacted, the bill would require state funding.

  • SB 147, by Sen. Shawn Still (R-Norcross), the “Boundless Opportunities for Georgia’s Children Act,” would allow students to cross school district lines to attend public schools for which they are not zoned, if space is available. Students would take state Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding with them, along with a portion of equalization funding their home district may receive due to the district’s low property tax wealth.

  • SB 169, by Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), seeks to change Georgia’s student disciplinary tribunal process, providing limits on the extension of hearing dates for student tribunals and requiring that suspended students receive appropriate instructional materials.

  • SB 170, by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), the “Students and Teachers SPEAK Act,” would require a student to be named as an SBOE ex-officio member and would require local boards of education to consider doing the same.

  • SB 202, by Sen. Sheikh Rahman (D-Lawrenceville), would enable GaDOE to launch and evaluate an outdoor learning spaces pilot program.

  • SB 240, by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry), would require the Employee Retirement System (ERS) -- the agency responsible for managing PSERS -- to survey school districts to determine which districts offer Social Security benefits or an alternative qualified plan in lieu of Social Security to PSERS members. The survey must be complete by Sept. 1, 2023. Districts that do not offer Social Security benefits or a district-sponsored retirement plan to PSERS members would be required to do so by 2024. The House amended SB 240 to allow some charter schools to opt out of TRS for educators hired after June 1, 2023, if the schools’ charter operator or management company offers a qualified alternative retirement plan. The bill was also amended on Sine Die to include language allowing ERS to raise the current 5 percent cap on alternative investments, but the Senate disagreed with the House’s addition of this language, and the bill was not brought back up.


PAGE will continue advocacy on bills that did not pass. We will also keep members up to date on Gov. Kemp’s action on bills that passed and related agency rulemaking through the PAGE Capitol Report. Follow us by subscribing to the Capitol Report, and please continue to communicate with lawmakers throughout the year regarding the impact of legislation, agency rules, and other issues that affect you and your students.

 

[1] The General Assembly also provided $40 million for bus replacement in FY 2021. [2] American School Counselor Association. (n.d.) The role of the school counselor. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/getmedia/ee8b2e1b-d021-4575-982c-c84402cb2cd2/Role-Statement.pdf [3] School Social Work Association of America. (2013). School social workers helping students succeed: recommended school social worker to student ratios. [4] National Association of School Psychologists. (2020). The professional standards of the National Association of School Psychologists.

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