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Day 38: Mental Health Parity Act Gains Final Approval; Conference Appointed on Voucher Bill

Bill Doubling Cap on Tuition Tax Credit Voucher Program Appointed to Conference Committee Earlier this year, the House passed an amended version of HB 517, which aims to double funding over the next five years for the state’s largest private school voucher program to $200 million. The voucher program, called the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, is currently financed with $100 million in state tax credits, which divert taxpayer funds from the state budget. This voucher boost was a last-minute change to a bill originally designed to increase needed fiscal transparency for the voucher program.

The Senate disapproved of this change to the bill by disagreeing to the House’s amended version. Following the proper legislative procedure, the House insisted on its position, forcing the bill into a conference committee. Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) appointed House Education Chair Matt Dubnik (R-Gainesville), Rep. Chris Erwin (R-Homer), and Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), the author of the bill and the amendment, to the committee. Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan appointed Senate Education & Youth Chair Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), Senate Finance Chair Chuck Hufstetler (R-Rome), and Sen. John Kennedy (R-Macon).

PAGE opposes expanding this private school voucher program for multiple reasons, including:

  • Its impact on student learning is unknown. No information about student academic outcomes—including achievement, retention, and graduation—has been collected, and the program has not been evaluated despite operating for more than a decade.

  • There is no accountability mechanism to remove private schools that do not serve students effectively. This contrasts with public schools, which report extensive data on student achievement, school climate, and funding, and operate within a comprehensive accountability framework that includes corrective action if necessary.

  • No information is gathered about -- and no restrictions are placed on -- participating private schools’ curricula or instructional practices. Public schools follow state performance standards and provide information on and accept parental input into curriculum. Public schools also will likely operate under additional oversight policies if the General Assembly approves bills that prohibit divisive concepts in public schools and centralize existing parental input requirements.

  • The program diverts funds away from public education and other essential state services, limiting the state’s ability to make critical investments. These investments include funding for school counselors for special education and gifted students, which the state does not provide, and student transportation, where state funding has shrunk to approximately 14 percent of districts’ costs.

PAGE highlighted concerns about the program’s possible expansion and inadequate transparency requirements in HB 517 in a recent brief, available HERE. A detailed review of the tax credit voucher program is also available from PAGE HERE.

Obscene Materials and Open School Board Meeting Bills Gain Final Approval

The Senate agreed to the House substitutes of two education bills marking final passage for both bills, which move forward to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

SB 226 by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas), which requires local boards of education to adopt complaint resolution processes to address parent complaints of student access to obscene materials in schools.

SB 588 by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), which requires local school boards to provide a public comment period during regular monthly meetings, among other changes. A review of all changes made by SB 588 is available HERE.

Mental Health Parity Act on its Way to Kemp's Desk

During an emotional and celebratory exchange, the House approved Senate changes to HB 1013, sponsored by House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge). The bill aims to implement multiple reforms recommended by the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission and provide insurance parity for coverage of mental and physical health, including substance abuse. HB 1013 was unanimously approved.

In praising the bipartisan approach in shepherding the bill through the legislative process, Ralston said, "I saw an 'R' and a 'D' disappear and 'Georgia' take its place."

The legislation now moves to Gov. Kemp's desk for signature.

Upcoming Schedule

Thursday, March 31: Committee Workday

  • House Education Committee, 1 p.m., 341 CAP

Friday, April 1: Legislative Day 39

Saturday, April 2: Committee Workday

Sunday, April 3: Committee Workday

Monday, April 4: Day 40/Sine Die


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