ATLANTA, Ga. — The Georgia Assembly ended the first half of its two-year session on March 31 with more of a whimper than a wail as most of the headline-grabbing bills passed in the days before adjournment.
Most of the highly debated legislation, including voting reform and expansion of special needs vouchers for public school students, was on Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk before the final day of the 40-day session.
The final day was busy as lawmakers passed legislation dealing with homeschooled students’ eligibility to play on public school teams, the rights of “pandemic pods” for small groups of students, and adding vaping product information to the drug and alcohol courses.
Approved measures are now before Gov. Kemp who has 40 days to sign or veto the legislation. The governor can also do nothing and allow the bill to go into law.
Education advocates across the state came up short on their annual push to defeat expanding the program that provides private school vouchers for students with special education needs.
Since its original passage in 2007, lawmakers have sought to expand the Special Needs Scholarship program to include an expanded list of what defines a “special need.”
Of the three voucher bills introduced this session, Senate Bill 47 sponsored by Rep. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), made it across the finish line and awaits the governor’s signature. The bill allows students with 504 plans access to vouchers, and not just Individualized Education Plans as defined under federal law.
Education advocates lobbied that 504 plans are often temporary and can be mitigated by changing the learning environment for the student.
Another piece of education legislation, the “Tim Tebow bill,” made it to the governor’s desk after years of consideration. Now renamed the “Dexter Mosely Act,” the bill allows homeschooled students to participate on public school extracurricular teams. The student must be enrolled in at least one class at their home school.
The bill did not pass on its own. It was added as an amendment to Senate Bill 42, dealing with student discipline data, after failing as a standalone bill.
The General Assembly also passed House Bill 81 which is the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget. It is the only piece of legislation that must be introduced and passed each session. The budget contains an austerity cut of approximately $380 million to the Quality Basic Education formula, the state’s primary mechanism for funding K-12 public schools.
Although significant, the cut could have been worse. The original austerity cut proposed to balance the state budget in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic was $1 billion.
Other education bills of note currently awaiting Gov. Kemp’s signature include:
- SB 59 - Increases funding for charter schools approved by local boards of education. Also creates mechanism for local charters to join the State Health Benefit Plan.
- SB 204 - Creates a pilot program to enable students who have dropped out of high school or are at risk of doing so to earn a diploma from a technical college.
- SB 246 - Prevents government or local school boards from regulating learning pods.
- HB 146 – Provides three weeks of paid parental leave to state employees, including school district employees, who have worked full-time for at least six months.
- HB 287 - Adds information on vaping and tobacco products for students in K-12, and human trafficking information in grades 6 through 12.
- HB 32 - Creates a tax credit for newly hired teachers in rural or low-performing schools.
- HB 606 - Adds the Georgia Independent Schools Association to the list of approved school accrediting agencies.