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Day 23: Educators Eligible for Vaccine March 8; Harmful Voucher Bill Passes House Ed

Teachers and School Staff Can Receive COVID-19 Vaccine Beginning March 8

Gov. Brian Kemp announced that teachers and school staff in public and private K-12 schools and pre-K teachers and staff will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning Monday, March 8. Kemp also urged all school districts to open schools and provide students with face-to-face learning opportunities.

PAGE Executive Director Craig Harper said, “Today's announcement regarding educator vaccine eligibility is welcome news. PAGE has advocated strongly with lawmakers and the Department of Public Health to prioritize vaccine availability to Georgia's educators and school staff as soon as possible. Vaccine access will provide additional health protections for school personnel as they work with students in schools as many have since last fall, or as their districts open school sites to students for the first time since last March. It is essential that the Department of Public Health provide an effective distribution plan for this rollout, and many school districts have already requested to serve as vaccination sites."

More information on Kemp’s announcement is available HERE.

By 12-10 Vote House Ed Passes Harmful Voucher Bill

The House Education Committee passed HB 60 this afternoon. The bill would create a third private school voucher program in Georgia. The education savings account (ESAs) voucher would be funded with state money that would have gone to public schools. The money in personal accounts created for voucher students could be used for private school tuition and other educational services such as tutoring. A 2019 version of the proposed ESA voucher carried a $542 million taxpayer price tag by its 10th year. To date, no state fiscal note on HB 60 examining the cost of the current bill has been produced. HB 60 is sponsored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock) who presented an amended version of the legislation to the committee today. Most notably, the newest version of HB 60 changes the voucher amount to match the amount participating students would earn in QBE, including the deduction of the local five mill share. It also limits the number of students eligible for the voucher program to 1/4 of 1 percent of statewide enrollment annually, increasing each year by 1/4 of 1 percent for a decade until a final cap of 2.5 perent is reached. The newest version of the bill also increases the frequency of program audit requirements from every five years to once annually.

Claire Suggs, PAGE Legislative Senior Policy Analyst

During discussion of the bill, several committee members characterized public schools as being fully funded, despite the ongoing austerity cut to Georgia’s school funding formula, due to schools’ receipt of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funds. PAGE joined other public school advocates representing school boards, school leaders, several Georgia school districts, and the GaPTA in testifying against the bill. The bill passed 12-10 in a non-party line vote. HB 60 now moves to the House Rules Committee for placement on the House voting calendar. Now is the time to contact your House member with concerns about HB 60. As always, contact policymakers using personal (not school) email accounts and electronic devices, outside of instructional time. The most effective advocacy is designed to build a lasting positive relationship with policymakers and demonstrates educators’ commitment to the students they serve by sharing personal stories about local school communities. Click here to use your home address to look up your state representative (note that state House members are labeled as "lower chamber" on OpenStates).

Teacher Tax Credit Bill Passes Ways and Means

The Ways & Means Committee passed HB 32 by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), a PAGE-supported bill that would award a $3,000 tax credit for teachers who are newly hired by certain rural schools or schools performing in the lowest 5 percent, based on Georgia's College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) school accountability system. PAGE testified in support of the legislation during the bill’s first hearing in a Ways & Means subcommittee, as PAGE also did when the bill moved through the House Education Committee before being reassigned to Ways & Means. The bill moves on to House Rules.

For more detail on HB 32, check out the PAGE Day 14 report on the bill as it moved through the House Education Committee.

Academic Support Subcommittee Passes Bill Allowing Home Schoolers to Participate in Public School Extracurriculars

A House Education subcommittee passed HB 545 the Equal Opportunity for Access in Education Act by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), which would allow home school students to participate in extracurricular activities at the public school for which they are zoned, as long as they enroll in at least one course at that school. During subcommittee discussion, former House Education chair Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) suggested that in order to more fully become part of their local public school community, home school students desiring to participate in public school extracurriculars complete at least one course at their local public school. Legislators discussed the logistics and impact of such a requirement and ultimately decided against it, opting instead to stick with the requirement that eligible home school students be enrolled in at least one on-site, virtual, or dual enrollment course concurrently with extracurricular participation.

The bill, which is very similar to legislation that recently passed the Senate Education Committee, now moves to the full House Education Committee for consideration.

Senate Passes Bill Allowing Transport of Students in Smaller Vehicles

The Senate approved SB 159, a bill that 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. SB 159 is almost identical to HB 455, a bill that passed the House on Wednesday.


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