Day 36: New Version of Special Needs Voucher Expansion Passes House Ed

Updated: Mar 24

With five days left in the legislative session, lawmakers are pushing to get bills across the finish line. HB 81, which outlines the proposed state budget for Fiscal Year 2023, and SB 47, which expands the special needs voucher program, are among those passed in committee hearings today. Links below to SB 47, SB 42, and HB 226 are to images of new versions of the legislation presented in committee, which are not yet electronically available on the official state website.


House Ed Approves Special Needs Voucher, Extracurricular Participation for Homeschoolers, and Learning Pod Bills

The House Education Committee approved SB 47, sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), by an 11-5 vote. Following recommendations made by PAGE and other public education advocates, the bill was revised to narrow the proposed new eligibility requirements to only students with a Section 504 Plan and one of about 20 conditions. Initially the bill would have opened the program to students with a 504 Plan or one of the conditions. PAGE Director of Legislative Affairs Margaret Ciccarelli acknowledged the importance of this change, which could lessen opportunities for abuse in the program, but spoke against the bill during the committee meeting. PAGE prioritizes the use of public funds for public schools and opposes voucher programs that send state money to private schools.

House members voting "nay" on SB 47.

Committee members also approved SB 51 authored by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), which would allow homeschool students in grades six to 12 to participate in extracurricular activities in the public school for which they are zoned if they enroll in at least one class at the school. Lawmakers’ interest in providing a pathway for homeschoolers to participate in public school extracurricular activities was also clear in their approval of SB 42, offered by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga). In a new version of the bill, SB 42 now includes language from HB 545, which is sponsored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) and aims to allow homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities under criteria similar to SB 51. In another key change, SB 42 keeps student discipline data in the school climate rating and also requires districts to post discipline data prominently on their websites. The original aim of SB 42 was to remove discipline data from school climate ratings.


The committee signed off on SB 246 by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan), which seeks to prevent state agencies, school districts, or other government entities from regulating student learning pods. It also approved SB 213 from Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla), which would allow districts to use SPLOST funds to purchase equipment to reduce energy and water consumption.


All the bills are headed to the House Rules Committee, which will decide which go to the House floor for a vote.


Senate Ed Committee Passes Pupil Transport Bill, Holds Student Financial Literacy Bill

The Senate Education and Youth Committee passed HB 455 by Rep. Timothy Barr (R-Lawrenceville), which would allow school districts to use motor vehicles other than school buses for pupil transportation. Vehicles with seating for fewer than eight people, operated and marked for the transportation of children, could be utilized under the bill. The bill now moves to Senate Rules.


The committee heard but did not vote on legislation requiring the State Board of Education (SBOE) to create a program of study in personal financial literacy for 10th and 11th grade students. HB 681, sponsored by Rep. Billy Yearta (R-Sylvester), would require the fiscal course to cover opening a checking account, balancing that account, managing debt, computing taxes, and other personal financial management skills.


House Subcommittee Passes Media Center Obscene Materials Legislation

The House Judiciary Non-Civil Subcommittee passed SB 226 by Sen. Jason Anivitarte (R-Dallas) which would require school districts to adopt policies providing for a complaint resolution process to address school media material, including books and movies, that objecting parents find obscene. Several public education advocates and the Georgia Library Media Association (GLMA) shared concerns with subcommittee members. GLMA cited an existing SBOE rule which already requires the adoption of school district media materials policies and explained that student exposure to obscene materials using school databases is not a widespread problem in Georgia school media centers.


Senate Committee Approves Proposed FY 2022 Budget

The Senate Appropriations Committee gave a nod of approval to HB 81, which contains the state’s proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Sen. Blake Tillery (R-Vidalia), chair of the committee, highlighted changes the Senate seeks to the version of the budget passed by the House. Changes to funding for the Georgia Department of Education include:

  • Reduce the proposed increase for five young farmer positions to $85,000 from $425,000

  • Add $1 million to increase funds for computer science grants

  • Add $1,630,000 for a state dyslexia specialist and dyslexia screening

  • Add $240,000 for rural coding equipment in partnership with the Georgia Cyber Center

  • Reduce the proposed increase for STEM and AP STEM virtual course for rural students to $25,000 from $75,000

  • Increase funding for Residential Treatment Facilities to $482,027

  • Reduce the proposed increase for a budget analyst/grants manager at the Residential Treatment Facilities to $62,500 from $125,000

  • Reduce the proposed increase in School Nutrition to $0 from $5 million

  • Reduce the proposed increase for Extended Day/Year, Vocational Supervisors, Industry Certification, and Youth Apprenticeships in Technology/Career Education to $674,030 from $840,924

  • Reduce funds for a pilot program in Technology/Career Education by $250,000

  • Reduce funds for the state testing program by $50,221, a shift from the House recommendation of boosting funding by $5,315,882

  • Eliminate proposed increase of $250,000 for a Computer Science AP exam pilot program

Other recommended changes in education funding include:

  • Add $250,000 for a Law Enforcement Teaching Students program under the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement

  • Add $191,525 to the School Resource Officer program operated by the Department of Public Safety

Tillery noted ongoing uncertainty about the state’s revenue in the year ahead. While state revenue is better than anticipated when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the state has not yet disbursed income tax refunds, which are expected to be higher than typical due to expanded unemployment payments.


HB 81 now moves to the Senate Rules Committee, which will send it to a vote by the Senate. After approval, a conference committee will be formed with representatives from both chambers to work out differences in their proposed versions of the budget.


House Approves Student Transportation Bill

The House gave a “do pass” to SB 159 authored by Sen. Gooch, which would give school districts the option of using eight-person vehicles to transport students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or who are experiencing homelessness. The SBOE is tasked with developing minimum requirements for the vehicles.

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