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Day 23, Part 2 & Day 24 Report: Civics Education, School Libraries, Addy's Law, Recess, Sex Ed, School Choice, & So Much More

Following a highly successful PAGE Day on Capitol Hill, PAGE legislative team members continued their work under the Gold Dome by attending a packed calendar of committee meetings and testifying on bills. Educators who attended PAGE Day also testified on education bills in several committees, sharing critical educator perspectives on policy proposals.  


This report summarizes education-related activity that occurred on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 20, Legislative Day 23, and throughout the entire Legislative Day 24 on Wednesday, Feb. 21.  


Day 23: Senate Education & Youth Committee Passes Many Bills and Forms New Subcommittee  

Likely as an attempt to clear most of their docket before the crossover deadline, the Senate Education & Youth Committee approved several bills during a long and eventful meeting:  


SB 147 by Sen. Shawn Still (R-Norcross), the Boundless Opportunities for Georgia Students Act, would allow students to cross school district lines to attend virtual programs hosted by public schools for which they are not zoned if space is available. Students would carry state Quality Basic Education (QBE) funds to the out-of-zone program above a $10,000 minimum threshold which would stay with their zoned school district. The bill had previously passed out of committee this year but was later recommended.


SB 459 by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) requires the SBOE to develop a comprehensive civics education program for K-12 students by the start of the 2025-2026 school year. Additionally, the bill requires GaDOE, in consultation with the Georgia Commission on Civics Education, to curate an oral history resource known as “Portraits in Patriotism” that will be based on the personal stories of individuals, including those who are considered the victims of other nations’ governing philosophies. These philosophies will be contrasted to those of the United States. Portraits in Patriotism will be used as part of the civics education program. Lastly, the bill requires GaDOE to develop civics education workshops for public school personnel.  


SB 365 by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) requires schools to provide parents with the option to receive an email notification each time their student obtains school library material, and such email notice shall include, as applicable, the title, author, genre, and return date of the school library material. The bill also states that the complaint procedure relating to materials that are harmful to minors shall apply to all written and electronic materials made available to public school students including both library and classroom materials.


The committee also considered but took no action on one other bill:


SB 492 or Addy’s Law by Sen. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) would mandate that all bus stops be located upon the same side of the roadway as the door to the bus. Committee members did not vote on the bill but mentioned their intention to send it to a study committee.


Day 23: Senate Education Committee Holds Rare Subcommittee Hearing

Immediately following the adjournment of the full committee Tuesday, several more bills were considered by a Senate Education & Youth Subcommittee:


SB 154, by Sen. Dolezal (R-Cumming), would remove public school librarians from the current exemption in state law protecting them from criminal prosecution for sharing materials considered sexually explicit. Librarians could face a misdemeanor charge of “a high and aggravated nature.” PAGE opposes SB 154 due to the bill’s proposed criminal penalties for educators. PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli testified in opposition to the legislation, reminding legislators of existing employment and teacher licensure consequences for educators, should they allow students to access obscene content.  This bill was originally scheduled to be heard in full committee but was referred to subcommittee.


PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli testifying on SB 154.


SB 432 by Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta) would require schools to provide at least a daily average of 30 minutes of recess for students in grades K-5 and a daily average of 20 minutes for students in grades 6-8. These times could be shortened if students have a physical education or similar structured activity. Recess could not be withheld as a disciplinary measure. These requirements would go into effect for the 2024-2025 school year and could not be waived by local school districts.


SB 423 by Sonya Halpern (D-Atlanta) would require all public high schools that have an interscholastic athletics program to provide for placement and maintenance of at least one automatic external defibrillator (AED). Additionally, the bill requires the schools to incorporate a cardiac emergency response plan (CERP) into their school safety plans.


SB 423 and SB 432 were passed on to the full committee. No action was taken on several other bills on the committee's agenda.


Day 23: House Education Subcommittees Move Education Bills

The House Education Policy Subcommittee considered the following education bills:


HB 846 by Rep. Rob Leverett (R-Elberton) requires local school districts to annually notify employees whether Social Security taxes will be withheld from their pay and requires notification of employee eligibility for other pension or retirement plans. The bill was amended to require that employees also receive notification when terminating employment with a school district.


HB 1122 by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) updates the conflict of interest governance board policies regarding state charter schools. The bill also allows state charter schools to earn funding for more principals.


HB 1221 by Rep. Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen) would allow students residing in one public school district to enroll in a different district. Only the receiving district would have the discretion to deny this transfer and a portion of the funding designated for the student would move to the new school district.


PAGE Legislative Services Specialist Josh Stephens testified that this measure provides an opportunity to increase the transparency of inter-district transfers. PAGE requested the creation of a single annual report that would include information on the participating students and districts.


PAGE Legislative Services Specialist Josh Stephens shares PAGE's recommendations on HB 1221.


Except for HB 1121, all bills heard in the policy subcommittee were passed on to the full committee.


Quickly after the Policy Subcommittee’s meeting, the House Education Curriculum Subcommittee passed both of the following bills unanimously:


HB 1027 by Rep. Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins) requires students to complete a half-credit course in computer science as a condition of high school graduation. A substitute version of the bill allows the requirement to be met if the standards are embedded in a CTAE course. Educational leaders expressed concern with space limitations as well as concerns with the potential quality of online providers. The bill includes a component that allows the requirement to be met by virtual instruction. A representative of local superintendents also mentioned the difficulty districts have in hiring computer science teachers.


HB 822 by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton). This bill would require each local school board to prescribe an age-appropriate and medically accurate course of study in sex education and HIV prevention by Aug. 1, 2024.


Day 23: House Committee Considers Expansion of Return-to-Work Law

The House Retirement Committee held a hearing on HB 484 by Rep. Doreen Carter (D- Lithonia). This bill would expand the current teacher return-to-work law by allowing the law to apply to the top six content areas with unfilled teacher needs in each RESA. The current law is limited to the top three content areas. The bill would also move the sunset date for the law back one year to 2026.


Legislative Communications Specialist Robert Aycock spoke in support of the bill, noting that PAGE supported the passage of the original law and likewise this proposed expansion as a way to combat teacher shortages and serve student needs.


PAGE Legislative Communications Specialist Robert Aycock speaks in support of HB 484.

 

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R- Milton) testified against the bill and expressed her belief that it could endanger the health of the Teachers Retirement System of Georgia. Furthermore, Jones and other committee members stated they would like to see a report on the 300 teachers who have made use of the current law to see how long they had been retired before returning to work. Policymakers said they are concerned that some teachers would use this law to quickly return to work after never truly intending to permanently retire.


As this was a hearing only, no action was taken on HB 484.


Day 24: The Frantic Pace Continues

Continuing the hectic race to Crossover Day, both chambers remained highly active on Legislative Day 24.


Day 24: House Approves Diabetes Information Bill

By a vote of 167-1, the House passed HB 1183 by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), which requires all local school systems that provide information on immunizations, infectious diseases, medications, or other school health issues to parents and guardians of students in grades six through 12 to also provide information on Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.


Day 24: Senate Committee Again Passes Changes to School Speed Zones

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved HB 348 from Rep. J Collins (R-Villa Rica), which would change components of school speed zone operations, including the use of speed cameras and related penalties and fees. The bill received committee approval last year but was recommitted after failing to achieve final passage.  The current version of the bill further modifies the operational hours for cameras that monitor speed to have them operate 1 hour before and 1 hour after the start of school. They can also operate 1 hour before and 2 hours after the end of school. This change was made to address after-school activities.


Day 24: Senate Higher Education Approves Expansion of Apprenticeship Program

SB 497 by Sen. Billy Hickman (R- Statesboro) expands and re-designates the High-Demand Initiatives Program into the High-Demand Apprenticeship Program. Among other changes, the bill creates a public service apprenticeship program. The bill passed out of the committee after a lengthy discussion.


Day 24: Senate Governmental Oversight Passes Bills Allowing Chaplains & Posting of Ten Commandments in Public Schools

The Senate Governmental Oversight Committee passed SB 379, sponsored by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), which allows schools to employ or make use of volunteer school chaplains in addition to school counselors.  The original version of the bill allowed chaplains to serve in lieu of counselors. The bill was further amended to provide a formal definition of the term school chaplain. Despite several members of the public having signed up to testify on the bill, only two were given the opportunity before the committee passed the bill in a divided vote.


Another bill sponsored by Sen. Harbin also passed the committee. SB 501 would modify the Foundations of Law Act to allow schools to post a copy of the Ten Commandments. Public testimony was not taken for this bill.


The committee also passed a substitute of SB 390. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry) would bar city, county, and regional library trustees and the State University System of Georgia from using any public or privately donated funds on any materials, services, or operations offered by the American Library Association and its affiliates. The substitute allows for funds to be allocated for the certification of degree programs and moves the certification of librarians to the Georgia Council of Public Libraries.


Day 24: Senate Education Committee Passes More Bills on Library Materials and Other Matters

Following up on their full and subcommittee hearings yesterday, the Senate Education & Youth Committee passed SB 423, SB 432, and SB 154. An amendment was made to SB 154 by Sen. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) to provide for an affirmative defense for educators who make a good-faith effort to identify and remove all materials deemed harmful to minors.


The committee also acted on several other bills for the first time:

SB 394 by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) would create the Clean Libraries Act. The bill presented at the committee is substantially different from the introduced version which was known as  the Restricting Explicit and Adult-designated Educational Resources (READER) Act. The substitute version of the bill would establish the Council on Library Materials which would be comprised of members appointed by the governor and the General Assembly. The council would be tasked with establishing standards for designating restricted libraries and supplemental instructional materials by local boards of education. Materials that are designated restricted materials shall not be made available to students under sixth grade and can only be made available to older students with written parental consent. Material that is deemed harmful to minors cannot be available to any student.


The current version of the bill can be found HERE.


Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) noted that a similar bill passed in Texas was overturned by the 5th Judicial Circuit


SB 532 also by Sen. Clint Dixon prohibits sex education in public schools before fifth grade. It further requires that all proposed sex education curricula be made available for public comment before implementation, and students may not receive sex education instruction without providing the student’s parent with the curriculum and receiving written consent from the parent. The bill also states that no school would be required to provide sex education.


Stephanie Tanner from the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) testified that the change from the current opt-out process to the proposed opt-in process would be overly burdensome to local school districts and threatens to leave some students behind.


At the end of the meeting, Chairman Dixon stated that this would be the last meeting of the committee before Crossover Day.


Upcoming Schedule


Thursday, Feb. 22 -- Legislative Day 25


  • 1 p.m. House Education Policy Subcommittee, 506 CLOB

  • 2 p.m. House Education Committee, 506 CLOB

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