Expanding Private School Vouchers a Priority for Some Lawmakers
Efforts to expand private school vouchers appears to be gaining momentum among some Georgia legislators. Three bills are in committee that would increase the number of voucher students, diverting public funds to private schools.
HB 142 aims to boost the cap on the tax credit voucher program to $150 million annually, an addition of $50 million from the current level. The bill is in the income tax subcommittee of the House Ways & Means committee. More information is below.
HB 60 would create a new voucher program with a big price tag. It would use state dollars to create personal accounts for voucher students. Funds could be used for private school tuition or a variety of other educational expenses. More information is available here.
SB 47 seeks to expand the existing special needs voucher program, which currently costs about $35 million. The loss of participating students’ federal rights for additional services is one cause for concern with the bill. More information is available here.
PAGE members have consistently opposed voucher programs that transfer public funds to private schools. The fiscal impact of these proposals on public schools is particularly concerning given the ongoing school austerity cuts that top $380 million.
Push to Expand Dubious Voucher Program
Lawmakers on the income tax subcommittee of the House Ways & Means committee heard HB 142 today. This bill would raise the cap on the tax credit voucher program to $150 million annually from the current level of $100 million. Sponsored by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), the bill would add insurance companies to the types of companies that can earn 1:1 tax credits for donations to student scholarship organizations (SSOs). The SSOs use donation revenue to provide private school vouchers. HB 142 also bumps the maximum annual tax credit allowed for companies up to $25,000.
The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts released a review of the tax credit voucher program in January: Qualified Education Expense Credit and the Student Scholarship Program. The report found the program lacks critical transparency and accountability measures and lays out recommendations to address these gaps. Lawmakers have not yet taken steps to implement the recommendations. Carpenter expressed openness to the recommendations though none are currently included in HB 142. Other lawmakers appeared unfamiliar with the audit report.
In their discussion, several committee members expressed skepticism that districts face financial pressures, describing them as over-funded and having plenty of money. Several lawmakers were unenthusiastic about accountability measures for student academic achievement that are comparable to those applied to public schools. One offered that parents can determine school quality, and another said she is not worried about academic accountability.
PAGE Legislative Director Margaret Ciccarelli testified in opposition to the bill. She explained that $383 million has been cut from state funding for public schools in the current year and is expected to be cut from the upcoming year’s budget as well. Ciccarelli noted that federal CARES Act funds are intended to help districts cope with escalating pandemic-driven costs. She highlighted the recommendations from the audit department report as well as the need for robust accountability measures for student outcomes. Her testimony can be reviewed here. PAGE also submitted written testimony to the committee.
The subcommittee did not vote on the bill. PAGE will monitor and report on developments on HB 142.
More information on the tax credit voucher program is available in this PAGE report.
Committee Continues Work on FY 2022 Budget
The education appropriations subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee heard updates from the heads of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC), the Governor's Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), and the Employee Retirement System (ERS). Matt Arthur of the PSC noted that his agency has seen a rise in the number of educators leaving mid-year as well as a jump in the number of long-term substitutes. Joy Hawkins from GOSA reported that the agency will host the Governor’s Honors Program this summer. Current plans are for an in-person experience, though GOSA will shift to virtual or hybrid, if needed. Jim Potvin from ERS reported that the system is funded at 76 percent, has 56,000 active members and 54,000 retirees, and that the average monthly retiree benefit is $2,206.
The committee also heard an update on the Georgia Virtual School from Keith Osburn, associate superintendent of virtual learning for the Georgia Department of Education.
Gov. Kemp’s Teacher Pipeline Legislation Passes the Senate
The Senate unanimously passed SB 88 by Sen. Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell) on Wednesday. The bill contains most components of Gov. Brian Kemp’s teacher pipeline initiative. More information on SB 88 can be found HERE and HERE.
Bill Providing Paid Parental Leave for Educators Passes House
HB 146 by Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens) passed the House on Tuesday. The bill grants up to 120 hours of paid parental leave for the birth of a child. The bill pertains to all full-time educators and state employees if they have been employed by a school district or state agency for six months. The bill would also provide leave for foster care and adoption. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Senate Ed Passes Bill Allowing Homeschool Students to Participate in Extracurriculars, Discipline Reporting Legislation, and Charter Bill
The Senate Education & Youth committee met this afternoon and passed the following three bills, all of which now move to Senate Rules which will schedule the legislation for a floor vote:
SB 42 by Sen. Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) untethers student discipline data from Georgia's School Climate Star Rating. The bill was amended during today’s hearing by Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta) to make clear that discipline data will be publicly available. For more on policymakers’ considerations of balancing student discipline transparency with complaints by educators that the current star rating system deters schools from adequately addressing some discipline issues, see the PAGE Day 9 report.
SB 51 by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) the “Dexter Mosely Act” (also referred to as the “Tim Tebow Act”) allows homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities at the public schools for which they are zoned as long as the students enroll in one course at their local public schools.
SB 59 by Sen. John Albers. (R-Roswell) changes charter school system grant amounts, allows additional educators employed by charter schools to participate in the State Health Benefit Plan, and requires local boards of education to make educational facilities available to local charters or provide them a facility stipend.
The Senate committee also discussed a compulsory attendance expansion bill, SB 3 by Sen. Lester Jackson (D-Savannah), which would raise the required age for student school attendance from age 16 to age 17. No vote was taken.
Ways & Means Subcommittee Hears But Does Not Vote on Teacher Tax Credit
A House Ways and Means subcommittee heard, but did not vote on, HB 32 by Rep. Dave Belton (R-Buckhead), a PAGE-supported bill that would award a $3,000 tax credit for teachers who are newly hired by certain rural schools or schools performing in the lowest 5 percent, based on Georgia's College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) school accountability system. PAGE testified in support of the legislation again today, as PAGE also did when the bill moved through the House Education Committee before reassignment to Ways & Means. For more detail on HB 32, check out the PAGE Day 14 report on the bill as it moved through the House Education Committee.