Senate Committee Pushes Special Needs Private School Voucher Bill Forward
With a close 6-5 vote the Senate Education & Youth Committee approved SB 47, which expands Georgia's special needs voucher program. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), the bill aims to open the private school voucher program to students who have a Section 504 plan and one of about 20 conditions including ADHD, autism, and dyslexia. Students diagnosed with one of these conditions, but who do not have a 504 plan, would also be eligible under the bill. PAGE testified in opposition to the bill in a previous committee hearing and flagged concerns about the bill reflected in this analysis.
In the hearing some lawmakers expressed apprehension about the ease with which some diagnoses can be made, which could create opportunities for abuse in the program. Others who favor the expansion held that private schools serve special needs students well. The voucher program has not been evaluated, though it has been in existence for over a decade.
SB 47, which PAGE opposes, is one of three private school voucher bills moving under the Gold Dome. This bill now goes to the Rules Committee, which selects bills to move to the full Senate for a vote. Senate leadership supports SB 47, so the legislation is likely headed for a floor vote.
If you have concerns about the expansion of the Special Needs voucher program, contact your senator now to let him or her know. You can locate your senator using your home address here.
Bus Alternative Bill Passes
Sen. Gooch also steered SB 159 to approval in Senate Ed today. The bill would allow local school districts to transport students using vehicles with eight or fewer seats. The State Board of Education (SBOE) would develop requirements for district use of these alternative vehicles. The bill prohibits the use of rideshare vehicles, such as Uber or Lyft. Gooch noted that Georgia is the only state in the country not offering this type of option. The bill passed the committee unanimously and moves to Senate Rules.
Public Education Foundation Reorganized
The committee also gave a thumbs up to SB 166 sponsored by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas). The bill proposes the merger of the Georgia Foundation for Public Education, which is connected to the Georgia Department of Education and seeks grants and other funding to support public schools, and the Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation, which is overseen by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) and is funded through donations for which donors receive tax credits. The aim of the merger is to streamline operations and clarify its role. The bill passed by an 8-2 vote and moves to Rules.