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Day 17: Gov. Kemp, Supt. Woods, & Legislative Leaders at PAGE Day; Harmful Voucher Bill Heard

PAGE Day on Capitol Hill 2021

This morning, educators from across Georgia convened for virtual PAGE Day on Capitol Hill 2021. Participants heard from legislators including Senate Retirement Chair Randy Robertson (R-Cataula), House Education Chair Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), and House Minority Leader James Beverly (D-Macon).

State School Superintendent Woods joined the webinar and provided an update on Georgia’s assessment waiver, pandemic learning loss, and other education issues.

Later in the program, Gov. Brian Kemp addressed the group virtually. He mentioned his support of and respect for Georgia educators, his intent to fulfill the remainder of a $5,000 educator raise promised during his gubernatorial campaign, and his current teacher pipeline initiative reflected in SB 88 and HB 385.

PAGE Executive Director Craig Harper, Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli, and Senior Legislative Policy Analyst Claire Suggs also presented this morning. Ciccarelli and Suggs answered a number of legislative questions submitted by Day on the Hill participants.

PAGE appreciates all panelists and attendees who joined us today and will soon publish a recording of the 2021 virtual Day on the Hill event. Please save the date for next year’s Day on the Hill: Feb. 22, 2022.

Lawmaker Pushes for Georgia’s Third Voucher Program Again

Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) presented HB 60, his plan to create Georgia’s third voucher program, to the House Education Committee today. Cantrell, the co-founder of a private school, has offered similar legislation in previous sessions. If approved, the bill would divert state funds from public schools to private accounts created for voucher students. The funds could be used for private school tuition or other educational expenses including tutoring, curriculum materials and tuition at postsecondary institutions. A PAGE analysis of an earlier version of HB 60 is available here. (The PAGE legislative team is updating this analysis.) PAGE members with concerns about HB 60 should share them with House Education Committee members as well as their own representatives.

Fiscal Note from 2019 ESA bill
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The cost of HB 60 as well as its impact on students were addressed in Cantrell’s remarks and in questions from committee members. Cantrell maintained that HB 60 carries no cost to the state, yet an analysis conducted by the Department of Audits and Accounts concluded that a similar bill he proposed in 2019 would cost the state millions under every implementation scenario. Despite the current austerity cut to schools of $383 million, Cantrell also characterized public schools as being fully funded given the federal CARES Act money districts have received. CARES funds are intended to help districts cope with escalating pandemic-driven costs. Several committee members raised questions about the fiscal impact of HB 60 though Cantrell said a cost analysis—called a fiscal note—is not necessary.

Other discussion points in Cantrell’s presentation were benefits for voucher students, including improved academic achievement and more effectively meeting the needs of students with Individualized Education Plans or Section 504 plans. As outlined in PAGE’s analysis, vouchers do not have a good track record on student achievement, and participating students would waive their right to services outlined in IEPs or Section 504 plans.

The clock ran out before committee members were able to ask all of their questions, so discussion may continue at their next meeting. Chairman Dubnik encouraged members of the public who signed up to provide public comment today to submit comments in writing. It is not yet clear whether public comment on HB 60 will be permitted at future hearings.


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