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Day 37: House Ed Approves Voucher Bill, Senate Ed Passes House Literacy Initiative & More

House Education Approves Amended Proposal to Create Georgia’s Third Private School Voucher Program

The House Education Committee passed an amended substitute version of SB 233 by. Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), PAGE-opposed legislation which seeks to create a new private school voucher program, called an Education Savings Account (ESA).

House Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton) and Rep. Todd Jones (R-South Forsyth) presented the House substitute to Dolezal’s bill. The revised SB 233 would award a voucher of $6,500 per year for families zoned for the lowest achieving 25% of public schools to use for private school tuition and other educational expenses. The revisions include several, but not all, amendments requested by PAGE, the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA), and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders (GAEL). The approved amendments sought by PAGE, GSBA and GAEL include:

  • Requiring students to attend a public school for a full year before accessing a voucher

  • Requiring voucher students who attend a private school to take standard-mandated standardized tests

  • Prohibiting students who receive an ESA voucher from also receiving a tax credit voucher or a special needs voucher

Rep. Miriam Paris (D-Macon) and Rep. Becky Evans (D-Atlanta) asked for a fiscal note or cost estimate on the voucher program during committee discussion. Speaker Pro Tem Jones asserted a fiscal note was not required as the ESA voucher program would be subject to state appropriations.

Raising a concern regarding the lack of information about participating private schools, Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia) noted that tax records are unlikely to be available for private schools that have been in operation for only a year, the minimum requirement of the bill.

With the votes of two members of House leadership who are not on the Education Committee but who have voting privileges on all House committees, SB 233 was approved. The new version of SB 233 heads to House Rules and is expected to be scheduled for a floor vote as soon as Thursday, March 23.

Archived committee footage from both of today’s meetings is available HERE & HERE.

Educators concerned about SB 233 are encouraged to contact their House member now by using their home address on Open States to access their House member’s contact info. Please note that Open States labels the House of Representatives as the “Lower Chamber.” As always, educators should use their personal (not school) email address and electronic device and contact policymakers outside of instructional time. The most persuasive legislator messages make clear the sender is a constituent, are personalized, demonstrate an educator’s commitment to the students the educator serves, and describes legislation’s impact on the educator’s school community.

Senate Committee Approves Seven Education Bills

The Senate Education & Youth Committee approved seven bills at its meeting, moving quickly in hopes of getting legislation across the finish line by midnight on Day 40. Committee members gave HB 538, from Rep. Bethany Ballard (R-Warner Robins), which aims to increase the number of students reading proficiently by the end of third grade, a quick “do-pass.” Ballard described the bill as returning to tried and true principles of reading. Components of the bill include a required reading assessment of all K-3 students to be given three times a year, training for all K-3 teachers in the science of reading, and the use of high-quality instructional materials for reading as approved by the State Board of Education. No funding has yet been provided to assist the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) or school districts in implementing the bill.

Committee members also passed:

  • HB 338, the Student Technology Protection Act, from Rep. Chris Erwin (R-Homer), which aims to strengthen districts’ security measures on electronic devices and networks to prevent students from accessing harmful materials.

  • HB 87, also from Erwin, which would create new governance and funding structures for alternative charter high schools serving at-risk students across the state.

  • HB 318 by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), which re-establishes the Office of Charter School Compliance within the State Charter School Commission and shifts responsibility for supporting locally-approved charter schools from GaDOE to the compliance office. The bill would also establish the Office of District Flexibility at GaDOE to support charter systems.

  • HB 81, from Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), which would revise eligibility criteria for capital outlay grants to increase access for low-wealth districts.

  • HB 306, by Rep. Tim Fleming (R-Covington), which would allow school districts to enter into performance contracts for facility upgrades and improvements.

  • HB 51, from Rep. Clay Pirkle (R-Ashburn), which would allow districts to use vehicles other than school buses to transport students. Currently districts can only use other vehicles, such as vans, to transport students with an Individualized Education Plan or who are experiencing homelessness.

HB 51 was amended during the committee meeting to address a concern Sen. Randy Robertson (R-Catula) raised about the Georgia High School Association (GHSA). According to Robertson, the association did not sponsor the Georgia Independent Schools Association’s (GISA) membership in the National Federation of High School Associations, which is required for GISA’s membership in the federation. Membership in the federation allows schools to participate in out-of-state athletic and literacy events. Robertson’s amendment, which is not yet available, aims to “level the playing field” between GHSA and GISA schools.

All bills now move to the House Rules Committee.

Senate Appropriations Committee Moves FY 2024 Budget Forward

Late in the day, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 budget, which includes a $2,000 pay raise for teachers and other certified staff. Committee members also added $4.9 million to ensure all K-3 students will be screened for dyslexia and $1 million for the Georgia Council on Literacy, which would be created by SB 211 and staffed by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. A more detailed analysis of the Senate budget proposal will be provided in PAGE’s committee workday report tomorrow.

House Retirement Approves Legislation Supporting PSERS Employees The House Retirement Committee passed SB 240 by Sen. Larry Walker III (R-Perry). The bill requires the Employee Retirement System (ERS) -- the agency responsible for managing the Public Schools Employee Retirement System (PSERS) -- to survey school districts to determine which offer Social Security benefits or an alternative qualified plan in lieu of Social Security 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 or a district-sponsored retirement plan to PSERS members must do so by Jan. 1, 2024.

A substitute version of the bill introduced by the committee today adds additional language on behalf of Atlanta Heritage Academy schools and impacts some charter schools. The provision states that educators hired after June 1, 2023, will not join TRS if their charter operator or management company offers a qualified alternative retirement plan. A representative of Atlanta Heritage Academy testified that the language is in response to an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finding. PAGE Director of Legislative Services Margaret Ciccarelli spoke in support of original SB 240 language dealing with social security. She shared concerns that the additional section of the bill addressing charter school retirement plans could weaken TRS’s teacher recruitment and retention benefits for impacted charter schools if the schools opt out of TRS.

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, March 22 – Legislative Committee Workday

  • Senate Public Safety, 9 a.m., 450 CAP

  • House Education Policy Subcommittee, 1 p.m., 406 CLOB

  • House Education Curriculum Subcommittee, 2 p.m., 406 CLOB

  • Senate Finance, 4 p.m., Senate Mezz

Thursday, March 23 – Legislative Day 38


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