Without Taking Public Testimony, Senate Ed Passes Bill Creating New Voucher Program
The Senate Education & Youth Committee passed SB 601 by Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller (R-Gainesville). Miller is running a high-profile statewide campaign for Lieutenant Governor. His legislation would create Georgia’s third private school voucher program. If approved, the bill would allocate $6,000 for each participating voucher student to be held in an account and used for tuition at a private school or for other educational services. Implementation of the program and its total cost would depend on the amount lawmakers chose to direct to it. More information about the proposed voucher program is available in an analysis by PAGE here.
Miller stated that the pandemic has made clear that additional educational options are necessary. Several Democrats on the committee pushed back on Miller’s plan. Longtime committee member Sen. Freddie Sims (D-Dawson) noted that private schools are not required to accept all students, including those with special needs or discipline challenges. “My concern is the decimation of public schools in the state of Georgia over the last decade.” Sims stated.
Over the objection of Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta), Committee Chair Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) allowed the committee to vote on SB 601 without any public comment. According to Payne, 13 individuals attended the meeting to testify against the legislation, and eight to speak in favor. PAGE Senior Policy Analyst Claire Suggs planned to share concerns about the lack of accountability for participating private schools, which falls far short of measures required for public schools. The accountability gap between private schools participating in Georgia’s voucher programs and public schools could widen, given the additional accountability requirements lawmakers are seeking to add to public schools under SB 377 and HB 1084, which prohibit teaching of “divisive concepts.”
The legislation passed along party lines, with the exception of Sen. Donzella James (D-Atlanta) who voted for SB 601, and Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), who was not present at today’s meeting. The bill now moves to Senate Rules.
Senate Committee Approves School Board Transparency Mandate
Before approving the private school voucher measure, the committee passed legislation mandating transparency at local school board meetings. SB 588 is also sponsored by Sen. Miller, who reported that parents have been treated unfairly for voicing their political views and barred from school board meetings. Miller characterized SB 588 as a “statement to boards that would abuse their authority.”
Miller said his bill makes clear that all public school board meetings are subject to video or audio recordings, that no member of the public can be removed unless they cause “actual disruption,” and that SB 588 allows for the award of attorney fees and litigation costs for those unjustly removed or treated.
Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah) inquired about what “actual disruption” means in SB 588. “In our own chamber, we can remove someone from clapping…is that prohibited here?” asked Jackson. Miller replied that school board meetings are “not basketball games.” Attendees must follow the rules, but they can be removed, Miller said. Jackson expressed support for law enforcement officers and concern that SB 588 will undermine officers’ job of maintaining order at board meetings.
Sen. Parent asked Miller what problem he intends to address with SB 588 and why the legislation seeks to hold local school boards to standards legislators themselves do not uphold. Miller reiterated that his proposal prevents parents from being punished unduly or unfairly for expressing their opinions.
The Georgia School Boards Association testified that SB 588 is not necessary due to multiple existing transparency laws. The Georgia Association of Educational Leaders asked if those who profoundly disrupt meetings, including using profanity in the presence of students, can be charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.
The committee voted to approve the bill along party lines, with the exception of Sen. James who voted with the majority to move the bill forward to Senate Rules.
Committee Passes Bill Increasing Penalty for Passing School Bus and Not Paying Fine
The House Motor Vehicles Committee passed HB 1387 by Rep. J. Collins (R-Villa Rica), which strengthens punishment for failing to promptly pay fines (within 30 days) for passing a school bus in a school zone. The current citation penalty is non-renewal of the driver’s vehicle’s registration. HB 1387 would increase the penalty to suspension of vehicle registration. After vehicle owners present proof of paid fines, they will pay a $60 fine to the Department of Revenue to reinstate their vehicle registration.
Wednesday, March 9: Legislative Day 26
House Education Committee, 341 CAP, 2 p.m.
Senate Retirement Committee, 310 CLOB, 2 p.m.
Thursday, March 10: Committee Workday
Friday, March 11: Legislative Day 27
House Retirement Committee, 406 CLOB, 12:30 p.m.