Senate Ed Committee Questions Woods about Face-to-Face Instruction, Educator Vaccines, and Student Learning Loss
The 2021 Senate Education and Youth Committee met for the first time today. New Committee Chair Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton) introduced himself and referenced his extensive experience working with youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice system. A presentation by State School Superintendent Richard Woods was the main agenda item. Woods briefed senators on pandemic challenges faced by Georgia public schools and estimated that roughly 70 percent of students have received face-to-face school instruction in the 2020-2021 school year. Woods mentioned his support for educator COVID-19 vaccination and a one-time $1,000 educator raise which he hopes will offset educator out-of-pocket costs.
Committee members peppered Woods with questions about how schools assess the extent of student pandemic-related learning loss. Woods acknowledged this work will take time and mentioned that many school districts already are working on remediation plans. Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) pushed Woods for more information about how many Georgia students are currently offered in-person school five days a week. Dolezal cited new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research regarding opening schools and expressed concern about student mental health challenges exacerbated by virtual-only instructional offerings.
Woods agreed that student mental health supports are critical and added that teacher mental health is also important. Woods said, “frankly, there was a lot of stress when we first went back to school. If teachers are stressed, that transfers to the classroom.”
Woods told senators that schools will receive additional Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security (CARES) funding for pandemic-related expenses. He also said that, as of today, Georgia’s request to waive federally required standardized testing has not been granted by the U.S. Department of Education.
Jason Anivitarte (R-Dallas) a new member of the committee, mentioned that his wife serves as a paraprofessional in a special education classroom. He encouraged Woods to focus on strengthening Georgia’s teacher pipeline.
Chairman Payne concluded the meeting by thanking teachers and other educators. Regarding ongoing COVID-19 education challenges, Payne said, “we are not through it, but we will get through it.”
Payne said the committee will meet again next week.
Pre-K Teachers to Receive $1,000 Supplement
Georgia’s pre-kindergarten teachers will receive a one-time $1,000 supplement, matching the supplement K-12 educators are slated to get. Gov. Brian Kemp and Amy Jacobs, commissioner of the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL), announced the payments today. They will go to Pre-K lead and assistant teachers, as well as teachers in childcare programs. Funds from the most recent federal coronavirus relief package will cover the cost of the supplements. PAGE highlighted the importance of providing the supplement to Pre-K teachers in a letter to Jacobs.
Senate Finance Committee Aims for Greater Fiscal Accountability
The Senate Finance Committee approved SB 6, which would assess the impact of state tax expenditures. These expenditures include tax credits, deductions, deferrals, and other tax-related policies that cost the state more than $9 billion each year. Despite the large price tag and the ongoing cuts to the state’s budget, these tax expenditures are not routinely evaluated to gauge their effect on Georgians or their financial impact on the state. Authored by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), SB 6 would enable lawmakers to determine if expenditures should continue, be revised, or ended.
SB 6 moves to the Senate Rules Committee, which will determine when the full Senate will vote on it.