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Day 9: Return-to-Work and Private School Voucher Legislation Advance

Return to Work Bill Passes House

The House passed HB 385 by Rep. Shaw Blackmon (R-Bonaire), which allows retired educators to return to work full-time after a 12-month waiting period following retirement while continuing to draw full Teacher Retirement System (TRS) benefits. Employment is restricted to high-needs areas in each region as determined by Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and to retired educators who have a minimum of 30 years of experience. Unused sick leave can be used to reach the 30-year requirement. HB 385, which is part of Gov. Brian Kemp’s teacher pipeline initiative, now moves to the Senate for consideration

Reminder: educators should not base retirement decisions based on pending legislation.

Despite Objection from Education Groups, Voucher Legislation Progresses

HB 999 seeks to create a new type of private school 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). 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, and they attended a public school in Georgia for six weeks in the school year immediately before enrolling in the voucher program. Parents must 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

  • 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 funds 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.

PAGE Senior Education Policy Analyst Claire Suggs testified against the legislation, citing multiple concerns, including the bill’s lack of requirement that schools utilizing the voucher employ certified teachers. PAGE outlined additional problems regarding HB 999 in a written document for policymakers. Senior Policy Analyst Claire Suggs is pictured below testifying in the hearing.

The bill passed with a voice vote and moves on to the full committee.

Additional Rep. Cantrell Voucher Measure Passes, Along with Military Student Bill

HB 60, also by Rep. Cantrell, seeks to create a new private school voucher program, as does HB 999. Eligible students include those attending low performing schools, those whose school districts did not provide “100 percent” face-to-face instruction for a semester during the previous school year, as well as students living in households with income below 400 percent of the federal poverty level. Students with IEP's and some Section 504 Plans, students from military families, and students in foster care would also be eligible.

Read more from PAGE HERE about the version of HB 60 which stalled in 2021. The version of the legislation considered by the committee today has changed. Though not yet available on the official state website as of publication of this report, images are available HERE.

Committee discussion included a question from Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) regarding why a third Georgia private school voucher program is needed, when an existing program was significantly expanded last year. Cantrell responded that HB 60 allows for more flexible use of funding for tutoring, therapies, and books than existing voucher programs. In response to follow up questions from Benton, Cantrell also mentioned that HB 60 does not require state-mandated Milestones exams, nor does the legislation mandate private schools demonstrate how they spend voucher funds.

Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) asked whether the same level of scrutiny and accountability mandated for public schools will be required of private schools under HB 60. Cantrell responded that he believes private schools will be more accountable because parents can leave if they do not approve of the way in which their private school handles the pandemic or addresses sex education or Critical Race Theory.

Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) asked Cantrell if he would be open to a friendly amendment requiring certified teachers in private schools accepting HB 60 vouchers. Cantrell characterized such an amendment as "unfriendly." “Some of the best teachers I know are not certified,” he said.

Cantrell also described HB 60 and HB 999 as "mutually exclusive." He predicted both would not pass and some elements might be combined. No public testimony was allowed, though PAGE submitted written comments citing strong concerns. The bill narrowly passed and now moves to House Rules, which is expected to schedule it for a floor vote.

HB 885, sponsored by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead) would allow military students who enrolled in public schools to complete the school year, regardless of any change of residence of students' parents. The legislation also passed and moves to Rules.


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