The Senate Education & Youth Committee gave a thumbs up to two bills, SB 153, related to charter schools for at-risk students, and SB 246, which restricts the state’s ability to set requirements for student learning pods. The committee hit pause on two other bills, SB 106 and SB 240, which it will review again on Wednesday, March 3.
Carried by Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), SB 153 would create a category of charter schools—known as Graduation Opportunities and Advanced Learning (GOAL) academies—designed to support students at risk for dropping out. Charter schools could pursue designation as a GOAL academy through the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) or the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC). The bill also sets up a temporary funding mechanism for the academies. Funding of the special schools was a major topic of committee discussion. GaDOE, SCSC, the House Budget and Research Office, and the Senate Budget and Evaluation Office are charged with developing a long-term funding strategy. The bill now heads to the Senate Rules Committee.
After approval by a 5-4 vote, SB 246, sponsored by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), is also on its way to Rules. The bill limits state requirements on student learning pods, which the legislation describes as parents voluntarily grouping children together to participate in or enhance their primary educational program. Georgia does not currently have any requirements regarding learning pods, though proponents of the bill mentioned during the March 1 meeting that other states regulate pods. The bill also exempts learning pods from requirements for K-12 schools and childcare centers including background checks, minimum instructional space requirements, and staff certifications. Representatives of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the State Policy Network, which both promote private school vouchers, spoke in favor of the bill.
SB 106 by Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) seeks to provide wraparound services to students in Pre-K through 12th grade before issuing students out-of-school suspensions for five or more days. Offered by Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta), SB 240 would create a new, voluntary instructional program on elections for 11th- and 12th-grade students. Committee members discussed revisions to both bills, which are expected to be reviewed at their next meeting Wednesday.