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Day 37: PAGE-Opposed Voucher Bill Moves to Governor's Desk for Signature

Private School Voucher Program Gains Final Approval in Senate 

The Senate agreed to the House's version of SB 233, giving the voucher bill final passage and sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp's desk for his signature. Kemp has expressed support for the measure and urged the bill's passage in his January State of the State Address. Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), sponsor of the bill, highlighted the House's changes to the bill before thanking Kemp, House Speaker Jon Burns, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, and advocates for their support of the bill and their efforts to ensure its passage. Review PAGE's summary of SB 233 here


Sen. Elena Parent (D-Decatur) spoke against SB 233, saying the $6,500 voucher amount offered in SB 233 does not cover the tuition for many private schools across Georgia, especially in rural communities. She said that, instead of funding private school vouchers, legislators should instead support updating the Quality Basic Education (QBE) funding formula with a higher weight for students living in poverty, funding more school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers, and providing more financial support for Georgia's literacy efforts outlined in HB 538, the Georgia Early Literacy Act.  


Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes (D-Duluth) also spoke against the bill, sharing that she grew up in a low-income school and that the private school voucher amount would not have allowed her to attend any private schools in her area. Sen. Sonya Halpern (D-Atlanta) shared information on voucher programs in other states and how those programs are not working. Sen. Derek Mallow (D-Savannah) questioned the constitutionality of sending public dollars to religiously affiliated private schools. 


In his closing argument, Dolezal highlighted poll results repeatedly used by voucher proponents demonstrating widespread support for the bill. However, a recent poll released by the University of Georgia shows different results, as did an AJC poll


SB 233 passed 33-21 along party lines and elicited a standing ovation from Republican members of the Senate. Lt. Gov. Jones, who prioritized the bill, thanked Dolezal for his work. Click HERE to watch the debate, which begins at the 1:49:29 mark. 


The Senate also approved HB 1122, by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners), which updates conflict-of-interest governance board policies regarding state charter schools. The bill authorizes charter schools to earn more funding for more school leaders. State charter schools would also receive funding for a school superintendent under the bill. The bill includes language mandating a single statewide school accountability score. Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) amended this portion of the bill to require that schools include the five components used by the Georgia Department of Education to determine a single accountability score when posting the score on school websites. Parent said she met with the governor's office, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), and Georgia Council on Literacy members and gained their approval of her changes to the bill. The amended bill passed 51-0. 


School Supplies Bill Containing Changes to Literacy Screeners Passes House 

The House passed SB 464 by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Gwinnett) by a vote of 169-1. The bill creates the School Supplies for Teachers Program and reduces the selection of literacy screeners, which the Georgia Early Literacy Act requires schools to administer. Notably, the bill requires the state to adopt a list of five screeners, including the free universal screener required by HB 538, the Literacy Act. The bill also moves the dates by which districts must select a screener from the soon-to-be amended list of screeners from 2024 to 2025. 


During floor discussion on the bill, House Education Committee Chair Chris Erwin (R-Homer) said teachers often spend a significant portion of their own money on their classrooms, to which Rep. Bethany Ballard, the House sponsor of SB 464 and a former teacher, responded that teachers spend an average of $300-400 out of pocket on classroom supplies.  


Rep. Sam Park (D-Lawrenceville) asked Ballard if she would be open to building funding for school supplies into the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula, and Ballard indicated it is a topic that should be discussed. Park also asked Ballard if, since the funding for the program is outside of QBE, it could be shifted to the soon-to-be-created Georgia Promise Scholarship voucher program. Ballard responded that such a shift could be possible, but she will push for funding the program. 


Senate Education Approves Final Slate of Education Bills 

The Senate Education and Youth Committee approved the following bills in what could be one of its final meetings this legislative biennium:  


SR 692 by Sen. Rick Williams (R-Milledgeville) creates the Senate Transporting Students Safely Study Committee. Williams introduced SB 492 earlier this session, also known as "Addy's Law," but the Senate Education and Youth Committee did not approve it. The original bill was in response to an accident in Henry County where a young student was killed by a distracted driver when crossing the street to board a school bus. Williams said it was recommended he form a study committee to examine school bus stop safety.  


HB 846 by Rep. Rob Leverett (R-Elberton), PAGE-supported legislation, directs local school districts to notify employees whether Social Security taxes will be withheld from their pay and requires notification of employee eligibility for other pension or retirement plans. Notification must occur at least once every five years and at or near the time of employees' separation from a school district. HB 1384 by Rep. Brent Cox (R-Dawsonville), which increases the number of accrued sick leave days teachers and other school personnel can use for personal leave from three to five, has been added to HB 846.  


HB 338 by Rep. Chris Erwin (R-Homer), chair of the House Education Committee, would create the "Student Technology Protection Act" and update definitions of child pornography, content harmful to minors, obscene materials, and technology protection measures. The legislation aims to filter, in an age-appropriate manner, content accessible to students on publicly funded laptops and devices distributed to students. The act requires local districts to update internet acceptable use policies, including setting appropriate measures for violation of the guidelines and creating parent complaint processes for alleged breach of the policies. GaDOE would compile a list of vendors for internet filters in coordination with the Department of Administrative Services to assist districts with selecting appropriate filters. The bill now also includes SB 405, a bill by Sen. Dixon that lowers the age of eligibility for completion schools from 18 to 16. The bill also directs the State Board of Education (SBOE), in consultation with GOSA, to adopt a policy for the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) to publicly report cohort graduation rates in completion special schools. 


The original language of HB 409 by Rep. Lauren Daniel (R-McDonough) was stripped and replaced with Daniel's version of "Addy's Law" contained in HB 1284. The bill encourages schools to consider reconfiguring school bus stops. Drivers violating Addy's Law could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined at least $1,000, jailed for at least 12 months, or both. After a second or subsequent violation, the vehicle owner's insurance carrier would be notified. Sen. Shawn Still (R-Norcross) asked if passing this bill negates the need for the study committee to approve SR 692. Daniel replied that the study committee could still be beneficial.  


The committee also stripped HB 298 by Rep. Daniel and replaced it with the contents of HB 1036, which directs the SBOE and Department of Public Health (DPH) to prescribe a course of study on pregnancy, health, and human development for grades nine through 12. It would include information on gestational development as well as information on the possible complications of pregnancy and causes of maternal mortality. This course of study would be included in the health curriculum, not sex education, and information on sexual intercourse could not be included. Sen. Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson) expressed concern that teachers may be reluctant to cover the course content in the current political climate facing public schools. 


School Zone Speed Camera Bill Approved by Senate Public Safety Committee 

The Senate Public Safety Committee quickly met on HB 348 by Rep. J. Collins (R-Villa Rica), which would change components of school speed zone operations, including the use of speed cameras and related penalties and fees. The bill received committee approval last year but was recommitted after failing to achieve final passage.   


Collins said the bill is a compromise between the House and Senate. The changes made by the committee were not discussed in detail, and an updated version of the bill was not available online at the time of publication of this report. Committee Chair Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) said he anticipates a conference committee will hash out differences on the bill. HB 348 was approved by a split vote, with Albers breaking the tie. 


Senate Committee Approves Added Insurance Protections for SHBP Members  

The Senate Insurance and Labor Committee passed HB 945 from Rep. Lee Hawkins (R-Gainesville). This bill aims to prevent members of the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP) and other state insurance plans from paying more if an in-network hospital becomes an out-of-network hospital during the plan year. Under the bill, plan members would not be charged higher co-pays, deductibles, or other fees if a hospital that was in-network during the open-enrollment period became an out-of-network hospital before the end of the plan year. 


Upcoming Schedule 

Thursday, March 21 – Legislative Day 38 

Monday, March 25 – Committee Workday

Tuesday, March 26 – Legislative Day 39

Thursday, March 28 – Legislative Day 40, Sine Die


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