Gold dome of Georgia Capitol in Atlanta

ATLANTA, Ga. — The closing bell of the 2021 General Assembly is set to toll on March 31 — Sine Die — giving state lawmakers only a handful of days to debate and act upon legislation before the 40-day session concludes.

The long list of bills under consideration at the start of the session in January was significantly narrowed after Crossover Day on March 8.

The 30th day of the 40-day session is the deadline for bills to pass out of at least one chamber, House or Senate, to be considered in that session.

In a session dominated by debate over voting rights and gambling, education bills still garnered attention. Consensus formed around Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget bill which restored previous cuts to funding, but deep divides remain over vouchers for private schools, transgender rights in high school sports, charter school funding and other issues that appear annually.

Bills that did not cross over on day 30 are effectively dead for this session, but look for some to reappear as amendments to other bills before session end. Lawmakers refer to these bills as “Christmas trees” on which legislation is attached in the closing days of the session. 

“Just because a bill didn't pass doesn't mean that the language in that bill is now dead,” said Justin Bierman, a legislative analyst with the Georgia School Boards Association. “At any time [lawmakers] can add language to a bill that has crossed over or completely rewrite a bill during a Conference Committee.”

He noted it is only year one of a two-year legislative session, so many of the bills that did not cross over this year may be brought back next year.

The most closely watched bill by education advocates were the two bills that expanded the state’s special needs scholarships to include more categories of eligible students. While parents cheered the legislation, the state’s education advocacy groups were united in opposition.

The results were split, with the Senate bill successfully being passed in both chambers, while the House version failed to receive Senate approval.

Bills to limit transgender rights in girls’ sports also failed, along with the annual push to raise the age of mandatory education to age 17, as well as allowing homeschooled athletes to play on public school teams.

Education bills that successfully passed by Crossover Day and remain under consideration:

House

  • HB 32 - Awards a $3,000 tax credit for teachers in rural schools and low-performing schools
  • HB 146 - Grants paid parental leave for full-time educators and state employees.
  • HB 287 – Adds tobacco and “vape” products to alcohol and drug education courses
  • HB 455 – Allows motor vehicles other than school buses for pupil transportation. (Version also passed as SB 159)
  • HB 606 - Adds Georgia Independent Schools Association as approved accrediting agency
  • HB 681 – Requires personal financial literacy courses for students in 10th or 11th grade

Senate

  • SB 20 – Expands Georgia’s Child Advocate Advisory Committee to include a foster parent, a former foster child, and a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)
  • SB 42 – Removes school discipline data from School Climate Star Rating 
  • SB 47 – Expands Georgia’s current special needs scholarship program to include students with 504 accommodations
  • SB 51 – Allows home school students to participate in extracurricular activities in public schools as long as they enroll in one course at their local public school
  • SB 59 - Provides additional funding to local charter schools, allows charter school educators to participate in the State Health Benefit Plan, requires public school educational facilities to be available to local charters or provide a facility stipend
  • SB 88 – Includes most components of Gov. Brian Kemp’s teacher pipeline initiative to increase the teacher supply across the state
  • SB 106 – Requires schools to provide services for students in Pre-K through 3rd grade before issuing suspensions
  • SB 153 – Creates Graduation Opportunities and Advanced Learning (GOAL) charter schools to help reduce dropout rates
  • SB 204 – Creates a pilot program to help students earn a high school diploma from a technical college
  • SB 220 – Creates a commission to oversee Georgia civics education
  • SB 226 – Requires local school boards to create a process to handle complaints of school media obscene material in school media centers
  • SB 246 – Limits state requirements on student “learning pods”, where parents voluntarily group children together to participate in or enhance their primary educational program

Education bills that failed to pass by Crossover Day:

  • HB 60 – Expands eligibility for special needs vouchers for private schools
  • HB 276 – Prohibits public schools to allow transgender female athletes to participate in athletic programs designated for females. (A similar Senate bill, SB 266, also failed)
  • HB 517 – Allows home school students to participate in extracurricular activities at public school if enrolled in at least one course at that school
  • HB 589 – Creates a commission on civics education in the state
  • SB 3 - Raises the compulsory attendance age for students from 16 to 17
  • SB 240 – Creates a program on elections for 11th- and 12th-grade students

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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