With Wednesday’s end of the 2021 legislative session looming, lawmakers in both chambers raced to approve long lists of bills including several education bills. Some now head to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature while others still require a final vote before becoming law.
Senate Sends Voucher Expansion to Gov. Kemp
The Senate approved SB 47 sponsored by Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), which aims to open the Georgia special needs voucher program to students with Section 504 plans and one of about 20 conditions. This was the last legislative step for the bill to become law. It now goes to Gov. Kemp for his signature.
The Senate gave a unanimous nod of approval to HB 32 authored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), which would create a $3,000 refundable tax credit for up to five years for newly hired teachers in rural or low-performing schools identified by the Georgia Department of Education. The bill returns to the House to approve a change made in senate committee. The Senate took similar action on HB 287 from Rep. Bonnie Rich (R-Suwanee), which seeks to add information on vaping and tobacco products to health classes for all students and information on human trafficking to health classes for students in grades six to 12. It, too, heads back to the House to approve a revision made in the Senate.
Senators signed off on SB 153 from Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), which shifts oversight of alternative charter schools to the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) from the State Charter School Commission. It also sets up the development of a new state funding mechanism for these schools.
Senate lawmakers also approved SB 59 authored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), which would increase state funding for charter schools approved by local school boards and also create new options for local charter schools to join the State Health Benefit Program (SHBP). It now heads to the governor's desk.
House Passes Bills to Provide Paid Parental Leave to Educators and Legislation Sending More Funding to Charter Schools
The House passed the following education bills:
SB 42 by Sen. Jeff Mullis keeps student discipline data in the school climate rating and 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 bill also includes HB 545, which is sponsored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) and would allow homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities. Since the House made changes to the bill that was passed by the Senate, the Senate must agree to the changes before the bill moves to Gov. Kemp for his signature.
SB 213 by Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla) would allow districts to use SPLOST funds to purchase equipment to reduce energy and water consumption. The bill moves on to Gov. Kemp for his signature to enact into law.
SB 220 by Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), originally titled "The Georgia Civics Renewal Act," would have created a commission to oversee Georgia civics education. This language was stripped and replaced with the original language from HB 681, which would require a personal finance course to cover opening a checking account, balancing that account, managing debt, computing taxes, and other financial management skills.
SB 246 by Sen. Matt Brass (R-Newnan) seeks to prevent state agencies, school districts, or other government entities from regulating student learning pods. Since the House made changes to the bill that was passed by the Senate, the Senate must agree to the changes before the bill moves to Gov. Kemp for his signature.
The House also agreed to the Senate’s substitute of HB 146 by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens), which would provide three weeks of paid parental leave to state employees who have worked full-time for at least six months. The bill would also apply to school district employees, though it does not provide funding to districts to cover any added costs. The bill moves on to Gov. Kemp for his signature to enact into law.