Education has captured considerable attention from lawmakers this session with multiple new bills already introduced and more expected. One notable new bill is HB 999, which aims to create the state’s third private school voucher program. A second is SB 377, which would require local school boards and superintendents to prohibit employees from discriminating against students and other employees based on race, skin color, or ethnicity. SB 377 would prevent local school boards and superintendents from including divisive concepts in curricula and training programs provided by public schools. Similar requirements would be applied to the university and technical college systems and state agencies if SB 377 is approved.
Key elements of both bills are summarized below. The PAGE legislative team continues to analyze the bills and will provide updates on them as they move through the legislative process.
HB 999 seeks to create a new type of voucher, an education savings account or ESA, which the bill calls a “promise scholarship account.” The bill is authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), who wrote a similar bill last session, which is still under legislative consideration. Cantrell is the co-founder of a private school.
Under HB 999, $6,000 in state funds would be allocated to “consumer directed” accounts established for each participating student. Students would be eligible for the program if:
Their parents currently live in Georgia
They attended a public school in Georgia for six weeks in the school year immediately before enrolling in the voucher program
Their parents agree to:
Provide an education including reading, grammar, math, social studies, and science
Not enroll them in a public school while receiving the voucher
Use voucher funds for approved purposes
They do not receive a special needs scholarship, which is a state voucher for students who have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan
Students could participate until they graduate from high school, turn 20, or turn 21 (for special education students).
The ESA voucher program would be subject to state appropriations, so the number of participating students would be based on the amount lawmakers allocate to the program. A lottery would be used to select students if the number of applicants exceeds the number who can participate.
The funds could be used for multiple education-related expenses, including:
Tuition, fees, and required textbooks at participating private schools
Tuition, fees, and required textbooks at a community college or an accredited postsecondary institution
Tutoring provided by a teacher certified by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission
Purchase of a curriculum and supporting materials
Tuition and fees for a non-public online learning program
Up to 50 percent of funds could be rolled over to the following year, and funds that remain after high school completion could be used at a postsecondary institution in Georgia.
A panel comprised of eight parents of participating students would determine allowable expenses.
Participating students would be required to take a norm-referenced exam each year, and aggregated data would be released in an annual report. The names of participating private schools would be included in the annual report, but information on their effectiveness would not.
SB 377, sponsored by Sen. Bo Hatchett (R-Clarkesville), would require local school districts from discriminating against students and other employees based on race, skin color, or ethnicity and ensure that efforts to foster diversity and inclusion encourage employees not to judge students, other employees, or individuals on these characteristics. Under the bill, no curriculum or mandatory training taught by school personnel or a third party engaged by the district may teach, act upon, promote, or encourage "divisive concepts."
SB 377 defines "divisive concepts" as:
One race or ethnicity is inherently superior to another race or ethnicity
The United States of America and the State of Georgia are fundamentally or systemically racist
An individual, solely based on his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity
An individual’s moral character is inherently determined by his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity
An individual, because of his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity, bear responsibility for actions committed by other individuals of the same race, skin color, or ethnicity, whether past or present
An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race, skin color, or ethnicity
Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or were created by individuals of a particular race to oppress individuals of another race
Any form of race or ethnic scapegoating or race or ethnic stereotyping
SB 377 indicates this requirement should not be interpreted as violating rights protected under the Constitution or undermining intellectual freedom and free expression. Nor should it be construed as infringing on the intellectual vitality of students and employees of school districts or prohibiting the discussion of divisive concepts as part of a larger course of instruction in an objective manner and without endorsement. Further, the legislation says that divisive concepts should not be regarded as prohibiting the use of curriculum that addresses topics of slavery, racial or ethnic oppression, racial or ethnic segregation, or racial or ethnic discrimination, including topics relating to the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in such oppression, segregation, and discrimination.
School districts would be required to establish a complaint process to address alleged violations of the requirements regarding divisive concepts and respond to any complaints made by:
A parent of a student enrolled at the school where the alleged violation occurred
A student who has reached majority age or is legally emancipated and enrolled at the school where the alleged violation occurred
An individual employed at the school were the alleged violation occurred
The district attorney for the county where the alleged violation occurred
The Attorney General
The House Education Committee
The Senate Committee on Education and Youth
SB 377 outlines components of the complaint process, which would go first to the principal of the school where the alleged violation occurred. The principal’s determination may be reviewed by the superintendent and local board as requested by the complainant. If the complainant disagrees with the local determination, he or she may appeal the local decision to the State Board of Education (SBOE)
The legislation allows the SBOE to withhold up to 10 percent of funding allocated to local school districts for alleged violation of the ban. The Georgia Department of Education is tasked with development of a local corrective action plan, and withheld funds would be restored within 45 days of the department determining that substantial compliance. SB 377 mandates that GaDOE develop a model complaint process for school districts and prepare guidance to help district leaders determine if violations have occurred.
Monday, Jan. 31
Tuesday, Feb. 1: Legislative Day 9
2 p.m., House Retirement Committee, 406 CLOB
Wednesday, Feb. 2: Legislative Day 10
2 p.m., Senate Education and Youth Committee, 307 CLOB
2 p.m., Senate Retirement Committee, 310 CLOB
PAGE Webinar on Proposed School Budget, Including Educator Pay Raises
At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 2, the PAGE legislative team will conduct a brief webinar on proposed pay raises for Georgia educators and other highlights of the AFY2022 and Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) education budgets. Please join us by registering HERE.
PAGE Day on Capitol Hill Signup
Please make plans to join us at PAGE Day on Capitol Hill, Feb. 22, 2022 by registering HERE.