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Day 25: AFY24 Budget and Special Needs Voucher Bill Progress, Bathroom Bill Stalls, Single Statewide School Accountability Score, Computer Ed, & More

Special Needs Voucher Bill Passes House

By a vote of 169-0, the House passed HB 579. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Carter Barrett (R-Cumming), revises administrative processes for Georgia’s existing special needs private school voucher program, adding timelines to the required provision of calculated scholarship amounts, adding appellate rights for incorrect scholarship amounts, and requiring private schools to list student conditions they serve. It also requires the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to track some demographic data of participating students.


The bill now moves to the Senate.


AFY Budget Proposal Heads to Conference Committee

The Senate passed its version of the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) 2024 budget. The Senate’s changes to education spending were limited. The changes included adjusting the proposed increase for enrollment growth and the local five mill share and eliminating funds the House added for testing and Communities in Schools. A conference committee made up of representatives from each chamber was appointed to negotiate a compromise between the budget proposals approved by the House and Senate. 


House Education Policy Subcommittee Passes Public School Choice Bill & Single Statewide School Score, Bathroom Bill Stalls

The House Education Policy Subcommittee passed HB 1221, the Boundless Opportunity for Georgia Students Act, by Rep. Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen). The bill allows students to cross district lines to attend public schools in other school districts. School districts would have the ability to decide to admit such students and the schools would not need to provide transportation. Receiving districts could charge tuition based on the local share of funding that would have been allocated for the student in the student’s home district. No tuition could be charged for students eligible for free and reduced lunch.  


The bill moved to the full House Education Committee.


The subcommittee also approved HB 1186, sponsored by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), which directs GaDOE to use a single statewide 0-100 score to rate school performance. Multiple scores reflecting various school dynamics, including student achievement, could be weighted and included in the single score. The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA) would ensure compliance.

 

The bill passed the subcommittee along party lines.


The committee heard but did not vote on HB 936 by Rep. Josh Bonner (R-Fayetteville). The bill mandates that biological males and biological females, as defined in the bill, use separate locker rooms and restrooms and stay in different rooms on overnight field trips.  “Reasonable accommodation” would have to be made for students unwilling or unable to use facilities designated for their sex. Bonner asserted that most local school districts observe the practices mandated by his bill, which he said are in line with 11th Circuit federal court rulings. He framed the legislation as a child safety measure, as did several speakers who testified in favor of the bill. Speakers advocating against the bill and identifying themselves as parents of transgender children disagreed, arguing that HB 936 would make their children less safe if the children were forced to use bathrooms not aligned with their gender identity. Notably, the substitute version of the bill presented in subcommittee removed some penalties for educators who were found to be in violation of the bill, a request of the sponsor made by PAGE and several other education organizations. However, the bill explicitly indicates that parents would have a cause of action if schools do not comply and that the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) would be authorized to investigate non-compliance.


House Education Committee Approves Preceding Subcommittee Bills, Along with Others

The full House Education Committee convened shortly after adjournment of the Policy Subcommittee.  During this meeting, the committee passed HB 1221 which had just been passed out of the preceding subcommittee. During discussion on the bill, Rep. Karlton Howard (D-Augusta) voiced concern regarding HB 1221 because the receiving districts would not be required to provide transportation for transferring students. He later voted in opposition to the bill’s do-pass motion.  


Likewise, the committee also passed HB 1186 but amended the bill to add language to have school websites posting their score also link to the GOSA and GaDOE websites. Rep. Rick Townsend (R-Brunswick) also suggested a sunset provision be added to the bill to ensure the score could be changed to address future concerns. While the committee did not ultimately make this change, the sponsor expressed openness to the concept, and it was suggested that a similar amendment could be made later in the legislative process. 


In addition, the following bills were also passed out of committee and now move to Rules:


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. An amendment was offered to remove the graduation requirement component of the bill, but this amendment was opposed by Rep. Ballard and did not pass. Another amendment was offered by Rep. David Wilkerson (D- Powder Springs) to ensure that the provisions of the bill would only affect incoming students of the 2030-31 graduating cohort. This amendment was approved, and the bill passed out of committee with a unanimous vote.  

 

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 846 by Rep. Rob Leverett (R-Elberton) would direct 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. Employees would also receive notification when terminating employment with a school district.

 

HB 822 by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) 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.  The most current substitute of the bill adds language promoting abstinence. The bill passed with a divided vote.


Upcoming Schedule


Monday, Feb. 26, Legislative Day 26


Tuesday, Feb. 27, Legislative Day 27


Wednesday, Feb. 28, Committee Work Day


Thursday, Feb. 29, Legislative Day 28/Crossover Day

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