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Committee Day: Mask, Return to Work, Parents' Bill of Rights, & Divisive Concepts Bills Progress

House Lawmakers Move Divisive Concepts and Parents’ Rights Bills Forward

The House Education Committee approved HB 1084, which is authored by Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) and prohibits teachers and other school district personnel from acting upon, promoting, or encouraging divisive concepts in curriculum, instruction, or mandatory training. Committee members also approved HB 1178, the Parents’ Bill of Rights, from Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville), which requires districts to create procedures for parents to review instructional materials and other information. The committee also gave a thumbs up to HB 1303 to expand an agricultural education program for elementary students and HB 1292 to prohibit districts from counting students as absent when participating in school-sponsored 4-H programs.

Since the committee’s discussion about HB 1084 at a previous meeting, Wade explained that the bill’s language had been changed to clarify that the State Board of Education would suspend waivers that districts obtain through charter system or strategic waiver contracts only if districts do not implement corrective action plans as directed by the state board in response to the board’s determination that a district violated the divisive concepts prohibition. Several committee members raised concerns about the bill’s implementation, including uncertainty among educators about how to discuss issues related to race and racism without violating the bill's divisive concept prohibition and addressing parent complaints about educators. Wade asserted teachers can continue teaching divisive concepts as part of a larger course of instruction and without endorsing personal political beliefs as outlined in the bill. He noted the bill does not alter state performance standards.

In a subcommittee hearing on HB 1084 that immediately preceded today's full committee hearing on the bill, House members discussed whether HB 1084 mandates posting of primary or supplementary instructional materials and sought the opinion of an attorney staffing the committee who explained that the bill does not mandate posting of lesson plans or supplementary teaching material. HB 1084 was approved by the subcommittee and passed the full committee by a vote of 13-6 and now moves to the House Rules Committee. More information about HB 1084 is available from PAGE here.

HB 1178 aims to codify parents’ rights related to their children’s education, including reviewing instructional materials. The bill mirrors SB 449, which passed the Senate on Feb. 22. (More information about SB 449 is available from PAGE here.) Bonner described the bill as increasing transparency. He said his aim is to streamline parental access to information by requiring districts to establish processes to review primary instructional materials and records related to their children as well as processes to opt out of sex education. Several committee members noted that districts already have processes to address these items as required under different components of state law. Bonner explained that the bill puts these requirements into one area of the law. HB 1178 now moves to the House Rules Committee.

Senate Approves Student Mask Bill

After much debate, the Senate Education and Youth Committee gave a thumbs up to SB 514, the Unmask Georgia Students Act, authored by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader. Under SB 514, districts would be prohibited from requiring students to wear a mask unless parents are allowed to opt their children out of the requirement. The legislation, which would expire in June 2023, would apply in any context whether or not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several committee members asserted that the bill could hamper local officials’ ability to respond to local circumstances if a public health need emerged. Others stated that masks interfere with learning and had limited effectiveness in reducing spread of COVID-19. SB 514 now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.

The committee also heard SB 452 sponsored by Sen. Sheila McNeil (R-Brunswick), which would require districts to offer a nationally recognized college entrance exam—the ACT or SAT—to 11th grade students during the school day. The purpose of the bill is to reduce barriers to college access, particularly for rural students. The committee’s discussion of the bill was cut short due to lack of time, and they did not vote on the bill.

Senate Retirement Approves Educator Return to Work Bill

In a quick meeting, the Senate Retirement Committee unanimously passed HB 385, sponsored by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire). The legislation allows retired educators to return to work full-time while continuing to draw full TRS benefits after a 12-month waiting period following retirement. Employment is restricted to high-needs areas in each region as determined by Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), and to retired educators who have a minimum of 30 years of experience. Unused sick leave can be used to reach the 30-year requirement. HB 385 is part of Gov. Kemp’s teacher pipeline initiative and now moves to Senate Rules, which is expected to schedule it for a floor vote. (Reminder: educators should not base retirement decisions on pending legislation.)

House Budget Review FY 2023 Budget Proposal

The House Education Appropriations Subcommittee heard from Rusk Roam, the chief financial officer for the Georgia Department of Education and other education agency leaders about Gov. Kemp’s proposed education spending in Fiscal Year 2023. Committee members moved quickly but expressed interest in learning more about changes in funding for students in the Early Intervention Program (EIP). Roam also explained that funding for the Special Needs Scholarship, a private school voucher program, is projected to increase due to the expansion of the program to students with a Section 504 plan under SB 47, which the General Assembly passed during the 2021 session.

Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, Feb. 24 – Legislative Day 20

Monday, Feb. 28 – Legislative Day 21


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