Joint Senate Education and Higher Education Committee
The Senate Education & Youth and Higher Education committees held a joint meeting for an implementation update on HB 538, the “Georgia Early Literacy Act,” which passed in 2023. Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), chair of the Higher Education Committee and sponsor of SB 211, which created the Georgia Council on Literacy, opened the meeting by describing his passion for the issue. He mentioned his embarrassment that Georgia ranks so poorly in literacy rates and stressed his support for SB 233, PAGE-opposed legislation that would create Georgia’s third private school voucher program.
Georgia Department of Education
State School Superintendent Richard Woods opened the presentations by highlighting Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI) and explaining the Georgia Department of Education’s (GaDOE) decision to provide more information on schools beyond the state-required grade on a 100-point scale. Woods described traveling the state to honor schools that are literacy leaders and also schools that showed the most significant increase in scores. In broad strokes, Woods shared information on GaDOE's literacy efforts, as highlighted in the presentation. Woods announced plans to place a literacy coach in each of the 60 schools comprising the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, based on federal data. Woods also announced a dashboard will soon be available to track literacy progress at the school level.
GaDOE Director of Literacy Amy Denty provided an in-depth update on the department’s implementation of HB 538, highlighting five major components of the bill: instructional materials, universal screeners, targeted interventions, professional learning, and teacher preparation.
Denty touted the Georgia Literacy Academy as an effective training tool offered to all K-5 teachers in Georgia.
Denty also provided more information on the literacy coach model:
Following both presentations, members of the committee questioned Woods on several topics, including CCRPI. Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), chair of the Senate Education & Youth Committee, questioned Woods' argument that a single 100-point scale does not provide enough information about a school's performance to be the sole figure presented to the public. Dixon said he is pro-school choice and he wants there to be an easy way to calculate failing schools so parents can make an informed decision to remove their child from a public school. Dixon said that school choice should exist because of free market principles, so that if public schools know a private school is doing something better, the public school will likely improve.
Hickman asked Woods why GaDOE is focusing only on the bottom 5 percent of schools with literacy coaches. Woods said that the coaches will be funded with federal dollars, and the U.S. Education Department (USED) uses the bottom 5 percent of schools in calculations.
Georgia Reading Corps
A representative from the Georgia Reading Corps informed legislators about how the organization partners AmeriCorps volunteers with schools to assist in literacy efforts.
Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy
Dr. Lindee Morgan, executive director of the Sandra Dunagan Deal Center for Early Language and Literacy provided committee members with information on a screener review and report conducted by the center. Morgan also provided information on a school system inventory of HB 538 requirements and an analysis of literacy coach designs.
Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education
Matt Smith with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education presented the organization's Top Ten Issues to Watch as the meeting concluded.
Senate Education Committee Approves Bills
At an early morning meeting, the Senate Education & Youth Committee approved the following bills:
SB 395 by Rep. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett), “Wesley’s Law,” which is named after Dixon’s cousin who passed away due to a drug overdose. Dixon said access to Narcan is currently limited to the school nurse and must be kept in a secure area. SB 395 allows teachers to carry Narcan and keep it in their classroom. Students are also allowed to carry Narcan. The bill protects anyone who either uses or chooses not to use Narcan in a school from liability. The bill requires schools to maintain a supply of Narcan at the school. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) asked how much the medication costs and how much should be on hand. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson), a career educator, expressed concern that the bill will place a further burden on teachers and voted no on the bill. Sen. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) expressed concern about liability issues for school systems for carrying and administering the drug and amended the bill to protect schools more clearly. The bill passed 6-2.
SB 360 by Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) allows school districts that offer Pre-K programs to spend capital outlay funds on these programs. Currently, capital outlay can only be spent on K-12 facilities. The bill passed unanimously.
SB 202 by Sen. Sheikh Rahman (D-Lawrenceville) would enable GaDOE to launch and evaluate an outdoor learning spaces pilot program. The bill passed the committee last year, so it was amended to update the implementation date. The bill passed unanimously.
SB 379 by Sen. Martin Harbin (R-Tyrone), which allows school districts to hire chaplains instead of licensed school counselors, was on the agenda but not heard. Dixon, chair of the committee, announced that the committee plans to meet next Tuesday and could meet twice next week.
Monday, Feb. 12, Legislative Day 19
1 p.m. - House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, 415 CLOB
1 p.m. - House Education Policy Subcommittee, 506 CLOB
2 p.m. - House Education Curriculum Subcommittee, 506 CLOB
Tuesday, Feb. 13, Legislative Day 20/Session Midpoint
2:30 p.m. Senate Education & Youth, 450 Cap