House Committee Advances 'Unmask Georgia Students Act;' Does Not Vote on Local School Board Open Meetings Bill The House Education Committee passed SB 514, the “Unmask Georgia Students Act,” sponsored by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Buford) on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp. The legislation allows parents to opt-out of local school mask requirements. The policy would sunset in 2027. Dixon stated that the governor would be able to override the policy in the future through executive order, should another major public health event occur.
The committee also approved the following bills. All approved bills now advance to House Rules:
SB 357 by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) would allow students in active-duty military families to attend any public school in the state, provided space is available. A student's family is responsible for transportation.
SB 545 by Sen. Sonya Halpern (D-Atlanta) seeks to require schools to include first aid in health or physical education courses for ninth and 10th graders.
The committee did not vote on the following bills:
SB 588 by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) seeks to require transparency in local school board meetings and regulate when disruptive attendees can be removed from meetings. During his bill presentation, Miller mentioned an instance in which a citizen was removed from a school board meeting and prohibited from attending subsequent board meetings. Committee Chair Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville) indicated he was holding the bill so that he can work with Miller on changes.
SB 603 by Sen. Sheikh Rahman (D-Lawrenceville) would enable the Georgia Department of Education to launch and evaluate an outdoor learning spaces pilot program. The bill was also held for further work by the committee.
Senate Education & Youth Committee Considers Teacher Evaluation Bill
The Senate Education & Youth Committee did not vote on HB 1295 by Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), which removes “needs improvement” as an evaluation rating that could lead to a teacher losing certification if he or she receives the rating two times within a five-year period.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), who served as a school board member in Cobb County, offered an amendment to the bill, which would narrow its scope to include only beginning teachers. He explained that teachers in the early stages of their careers need development, especially in their first five years, and these educators should not be penalized.
Corbett, who also served on his local school board, pointed out that the state constantly “moves the goal post” for teachers, so a rating of needs development may be related to having to learn a new curriculum, for example, and should not lead to loss of certification.
PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli spoke in favor of Corbett’s original bill. She encouraged the committee to consider adding back language that was removed in the House that would create a pilot program for some districts to implement an alternative teacher evaluation system. “The fact that we are here today shows that the [teacher] evaluation system needs work," Ciccarelli said. "We want to have high accountability for student achievement, but we also need a teacher mentoring program that allows new teachers to improve in their careers and awards teachers that are exemplary.”
Matt Arthur, the executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, while not opposing the bill, did share concerns with Corbett’s version of HB 1295. He said that the current system provides an incentive for teachers who receive the “needs development” rating to seek improvement for the next school year. He also agreed that the evaluation system needs to be “reworked.”
Committee Chair Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) said the committee will consider the bill at its next meeting on Wednesday, March 23.
The committee approved the following bills:
HB 1292 by Rep. Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper) prohibits districts from counting students as absent when participating in school-sponsored 4-H programs.
HB 1357 by Rep. Tyler Paul Smith (R-Bremen) would require the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) to consider any out-of-state teacher certification program that meets the requirements of the GaPSC. Matt Arthur shared that GaPSC does not have a position on HB 1357. He described the agency's high bar with regard to approval of certification programs.
House Committee Reviews High School Equivalency Fee Bill
The House Higher Education Committee discussed SB 397, sponsored by Sen. Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell), which aims to alter the time frame when students are allocated a voucher to cover the cost of taking the high school equivalency exam. Goodman explained that many adults complete coursework to prepare for the high school equivalency exam but do not take the exam due to its required fee, which exceeds $200. Under SB 397, the funds would be distributed to the technical college system, which administers the exam, before the student takes it to cover the fee upfront instead of using it to reimburse students. The committee heard testimony but did not vote on the bill.
Tuesday, March 22 – Legislative Day 33
Wednesday, March 23 – Legislative Day 34
Senate Education & Youth Committee, 2 p.m., 307 CLOB