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Day 25: Voucher Bill Approved in Senate Ed Committee; Literacy Bills Advance in House and Senate

Voucher & Literacy Bills Get Quick Approval from Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education & Youth Committee passed three bills today including a voucher bill and one that aims to improve literacy instruction. Committee members also signed off on a bill related to agencies that accredit school districts.

SB 233: Georgia’s Third Private School Voucher Program

After cutting off public comment, legislators approved SB 233 from Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming). The bill would create a new type of private school voucher—an Education Savings Account or ESA—that would send $6,000 to each participating student every year. The program would join the state’s two existing voucher programs, which carry a combined price tag of about $150 million annually.

Student eligibility is extensive. Pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade could get a voucher, even if they already attend a private school. Students in grades two to 12 would be voucher-eligible if they attend a public school for six weeks.

ESA funds could be used for private school tuition or other education-related expenses including tutoring, curriculum materials, or physician or therapist-provided services. SB 233 does not limit the number of eligible students who could receive the voucher, though it does make funding contingent on the legislature fully funding the Quality Basic Education formula for public schools.

Many speakers signed up to testify about the bill, including PAGE and other education organizations. Breaking with standard practice, Chair Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) selected a few to speak before ending public comment to move to a vote on the bill. PAGE was not selected. The bill passed along party lines with Republicans voting to approve SB 233, and Democrats voting no. SB 233 now moves to the Rules Committee, which will decide if the bill will be voted on by the full Senate.

SB 211: Aiming to Change Literacy Instruction

Committee members passed SB 211 from Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro), which would establish the Georgia Council on Literacy to set new district improvement requirements and oversight mechanisms. The Council would be comprised of 10 legislators, two teachers, two superintendents, two school board members, and two literacy advocates. It would undertake activities in multiple areas including:

  • Review best practices in literacy instruction from other states

  • Establish a common metric for literacy scores for kindergarten through 12th grade

  • Research and make recommendations for improving literacy rates among:

    1. Low-income students

    2. Minority students

    3. English for speakers of other language (ESOL) students

    4. Students with characteristics of dyslexia

  • Review and set annual literacy goals for students in grades three, five, and eight

  • Review and make recommendations to align teacher certification with evidence-based literacy instruction and education degree program requirements

  • Review and make recommendations for literacy instruction methods, curricula resources, and professional development for current teachers

SB 211 would also require districts to develop a five-year literacy plan for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The plans must include:

  • Goals for improving literacy outcomes

  • Evidence-based literacy instruction methods and curricula to be used to teach reading and for interventions

  • Professional development for teachers

  • Community partnership in place or to be developed

The council would review districts’ plans and make recommendations for improvement. It would be staffed by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Districts would also be required to create individual student literacy plans for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Parents would be notified and review the plans when their children are reading below grade level.

SB 211 moves to the Rules Committee

SB 204: Requirements for Accrediting Agencies

Committee members also passed SB 204 from Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), which would establish specific criteria for agencies that accredit public schools. The criteria outline the evaluation components agencies must use in accrediting school districts, including measurements of student learning and financial efficiency.

SB 204 moves to the Rules Committee.

Literacy Act, Planning Period Bill, Early Learning Literary Legislation & School Accreditation Bill Pass Subcommittee

The House Education Curriculum Subcommittee met and passed the following bills, all of which move to the full Education Committee:

HB 538, the Georgia Early Literacy Act, sponsored by freshman legislator Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins), a former teacher. Ballard cited her goal of helping more Georgia students read on grade level by the end of third grade.

HB 538 requires:

  • State Board of Education (SBOE) to approve high-quality instructional materials for K-3 students

  • Use of universal reading screeners in all K-3 public school classrooms

  • Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) and Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) to develop K-8 teacher training on the science of reading, structured literacy, and foundational literacy skills

  • All public school K-3 teachers to complete training

  • Annual GaDOE reports

  • Local boards of education to approve high-quality K-3 instructional materials and to administer universal reading screeners at least three times each school year

  • Screener results to be provided to parents and for GaDOE analysis

  • Reading intervention plans for students with significant reading deficiencies

  • K-2 norm-referenced formative reading assessments

  • Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) to create and implement a teacher certification reading endorsement

During public comment, PAGE lauded the shared goal of improving literacy instruction and provided feedback to strengthen the bill, including centering the experience, advice, and leadership of classroom teachers; assessing both financial and opportunity cost borne by schools and educators; and providing funding, planning time, and other necessary resources.

HB 537, by Rep. Becky Evans (D-Atlanta), which Evans described as a “companion bill” to HB 538, directs the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) to provide age-appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction training requirements for child care providers; GaPSC to require that teacher education programs include mandatory coursework in age-appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction; and GaPSC to revise teacher certification standards to include age-appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction.

HB 340, by John Corbett (R-Lake Park), provides for daily planning periods for K-12 teachers. PAGE testified in support of the legislation, citing member survey data indicating high levels of support for planning periods. PAGE mentioned that, as currently written, HB 340 could be waived under school districts’ flexibility contracts. During committee discussion, members debated amending the bill to make the planning requirement non-waivable but decided against it due to concern that such a change would generate opposition to the bill.

HB 506, by Ginny Ehrhart (R-Marietta), provides for:

  • Consideration of accrediting agencies as reliable authorities on the quality of education offered in Georgia public schools

  • Accreditation requirements, in which 80% of an accreditation assessment is based on student achievement, and 20% is based on financial efficiency

  • Prohibited recognition of certain accrediting agencies

  • SBOE to establish assessment criteria, procedures, and other requirements for recognized accrediting agencies

  • Accreditation of public elementary and middle schools exclusively by GaDOE, with appeals to the SBOE

Before the subcommittee approved the legislation, members passed an amendment adjusting the academic achievement/financial efficiency accreditation formula from 80%/20% to 65%/35%.

Senate Passes Education Bills

The Senate approved the following education bills which now move to the House:

SB 170 is sponsored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) on behalf of several young men advocating for more student voice on the State Board of Education (SBOE) and local school boards. The legislation requires a student be named as an SBOE ex-officio member and requires local boards of education to consider the same.

SB 169, by Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), makes several changes to Georgia’s student disciplinary tribunal process, providing limits on the extension of hearing dates for student tribunals and requiring that suspended students receive appropriate instructional materials.

Senate Retirement Approves Legislation Supporting PSERS Employees

The Senate Retirement Committee approved SB 240 by Sen. Larry Walker (R-Perry), which requires the Employee Retirement System (ERS), the agency responsible for managing the Public Schools Employee Retirement System (PSERS), with surveying school districts to determine which offer Social Security benefits to PSERS members. The survey must be complete by Sept. 1, 2023. Once the survey is complete, districts that do not offer Social Security benefits to PSERS members must do so by Jan. 1, 2024. PAGE signed up to testify in support of the bill, but the chair inadvertently skipped public testimony before the bill was approved. PAGE Legislative Services Specialist Josh Stephens expressed support for the bill to committee members at the conclusion of the meeting. SB 240 moves on to Senate Rules.

The committee voted to send SB 105, also by Walker, for actuarial study, a requirement for retirement bills deemed to have a fiscal impact on the state. The PAGE-supported bill would lift the statutory cap on the retirement multiplier for these PSERS members who are classified staff serving in a number of educational roles such as pupil transportation, school nutrition, and custodial services.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, March 1 – Legislative Day 26

  • House Education Policy Subcommittee, 8:30 a.m., 506 CLOB

  • Senate Education & Youth Committee, 10 a.m., 307 CLOB

  • House Industry & Labor Committee, 3 p.m., 506 CLOB

Thursday, March 2 – Legislative Day 27

Monday, March 6 – Legislative Day 28/Crossover Day


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