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Day 11: House Ed Budget Changes, Kemp's Safe Schools Act, Literacy, Vax Mandate Prohibition

House Budget Writers Offer Changes to Gov. Kemp’s 2023 Spending Plan

The House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2023 budget, including several changes to Gov. Brian Kemp’s spending proposals for education. The biggest change is the addition of $100 million to the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) to boost its financial stability. This addition is part of plan to phase-in a 67 percent increase in the employer share of the per member, per month (PMPM) cost of health insurance for classified school employees. Districts cover this cost, currently $945 a month for each participating employee, which will climb to $1,580. This increase will be phased in over three years, enabling districts to develop plans to absorb this cost, estimated to be $450 million when fully implemented.

Changes to education spending in the House AFY 2023 Budget plan include:

  • $23 million increase to boost one-time safety grants to $60,000 per school, bringing total funding to $138 million. The House would also allow districts to use the funds flexibly to meet varying safety needs across their schools.

  • $1.25 million increase to provide $50,000 matching grants to schools for character education.

  • $3.33 million increase to purchase equipment for construction industry certification programs.

  • $10 million reduction to reimbursable grant program for paraprofessionals who gain certification via the GaTAPP program, bringing total funding to $10 million. The House would also lift the proposed $3,000 cap on the grants and open eligibility to any paraprofessional enrolled in a GaTAPP program on or after January 1, 2023.

  • $25 million reduction in learning loss grants to districts due to federal pandemic relief funds that districts have received for this purpose.

Other changes outlined in the education portion of the House AFY 2023 spending plan are “true-ups”—changes made to reflect new or corrected information such as updated enrollment or staff data.

The AFY 2023 budget will now go to the full House for approval. From there it will move to the Senate Appropriations committee, which will offer its own adjustments to the spending plan.

Gov. Kemp’s School Safety Act Introduced

HB 147, sponsored on behalf of Gov. Kemp by Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville), was introduced Wednesday, Feb. 1. The legislation does the following:

  • Directs the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC), in consultation with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA) and other state agencies, to create school safety and anti-gang endorsements for eligible certificated professional personnel.

  • Encourages postsecondary educational institutions with GaPSC teacher certification programs to include training in safe schools and deterring youth gangs.

  • Mandates that school safety plans, which are already annually required, be submitted to GEMA.

  • Requires schools 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 out their children by written notification.

The bill is expected to be assigned to committee tomorrow.

Senators Continue Diving into Literacy

Members of the Senate Education & Youth Committee and Senate Higher Education Committee continued to hear from organizations that have a hand in Georgia literacy instruction. Former governor and current University System of Georgia Chancellor Sonny Perdue described a collaborative task force with GaPSC working to align the literacy instruction standards included in GaPSC’s accreditation of teacher preparation programs with evidence-based best practices. The task force formed in response to a 2019 survey of reading programs conducted by USG. As part of this project, USG and GaPSC are also reviewing the GACE assessment to bolster literacy instruction questions to encourage greater teacher candidate proficiency.

Holley Roberts, associate provost for academic affairs and director of the graduate school at Georgia College and State University, and Kristina Dandy, interim director of the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center, provided committee members with an overview of the center’s role in improving literacy instruction, including researching evidence-based best practices.

Mike Looney, superintendent of Fulton County Schools, described efforts to improve literacy rates in his district through implementation of Every Child Reads, a program funded with $90 million of the district’s ESSR III pandemic funds that is centered on the Science of Reading. Through Every Child Reads, the district is training teachers on best practices. Fulton also has 59 literacy coaches, one for each of its elementary schools, who support teachers in each school.

Shawonna Coleman, executive director of Georgia programs for Reading Corps, a program that leverages AmeriCorps volunteers to become reading tutors through partnerships with school systems, shared the group’s reach in Georgia. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, a long-time educator and member of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, was instrumental in bringing Reading Corps to Georgia during the pandemic, initially through a partnership with Dougherty County Schools.

The joint committee meetings will continue next week.

Senate Committee Passes Anti-Vax Mandate Legislation

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed legislation preventing COVID-19 vaccine mandates for public employees, including educators. Similar legislation passed during the 2022 legislative session but is slated to sunset. SB 1 by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) seeks to remove the sunset date. Thus, the prohibition against public employee vaccine mandates would exist indefinitely, if SB 1 is signed into law. Dolezal removed a portion of the bill regarding school mask mandates and mentioned to the committee that he intends to bring standalone mask legislation.

The bill now moves to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration.

Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, Feb. 2 – Legislative Day 12

  • House Education Meeting – 1 p.m., 506 CLOB

Monday, Feb. 6 – Legislative Day 13


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