During the 2018 Session GAE closely followed and advocated
against HB 482 (Cantrell, Woodstock), this year’s voucher
bill. Vouchers can be implemented in numerous ways, such
as through tax credits (see HB 217 above) or through what is
known as “Education Savings Accounts (ESA).” HB 482 was an ESA voucher
bill and was strongly opposed by GAE.
On Day 28 of the Session, “Crossover Day,” HB 482 was placed on the
House Rules Committee calendar at 2 pm. GAE and other public education
advocates, at the Capitol and from afar, worked quickly to convince
legislators to rise in support of public education and vote on vouchers. HB
482 came to the floor of the House after midnight that same day. In a show
of bipartisan support for public education, two Republicans, Rep. Tommy
Benton (Jefferson) and House Education Chair Brooks Coleman (Duluth),
went to the well to speak against the bill. Two Democrats, Rep. Rhonda
Burnough (Riverdale) and Rep. Brenda Lopez (Norcross), delivering the
Minority Report, also went to the well in opposition. Only one legislator, Rep.
Valencia Stovall (D-Forest Park), joined the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Wes Cantrell,
in speaking in support of the bill. HB 482 was defeated 102 – 60.
As a final note on vouchers, as a direct result of the defeat of HB 482, a
study committee on “Education Options” was appointed by House Education
Committee Chair Coleman. The charge to this group is to
“explore the use of flexibility in using tax dollars for ‘other’ education options,
particularly for students in underperforming schools.” GAE will closely watch
this committee and the potential expansion of
GAE was also closely monitoring HB 903 (Maxwell, Dallas),
a bill which would have limited Cost of Living Adjustments
(COLA) for some Teachers Retirement System (TRS) members.
Rep. Maxwell maintained that his intent, in bringing HB 903,
was to start a conversation about TRS and associated costs. There was
also, late in the Session, a pension hearing at a House Budget and Fiscal
Oversight Affairs Committee meeting. The committee heard a presentation,
“The Case for Reforming Teacher’s Retirement System” from the Reason
Foundation, a libertarian think tank. Rep. Chuck Martin (Alpharetta), the
committee chair, opened and closed the meeting with an affirmation of the
state’s commitment to honor and protect benefits promised to teachers and
retirees. His stated concern is the amount of interest paid on the unfunded
liability debt. Evidence presented shows that the Teacher Retirement System
of Georgia is in very good health, so any real concern about the future is
unwarranted. However, costs and how the Actuarially Required Contribution
(ARC) is fully funded will continue to be an issue; going forward there is a
continued need for attention and a real opportunity for educators to offer
insights that help to constructively drive this conversation. Although there
was no legislative action taken with regard to HB 903 during the 2018
session, the activity around pension reform signals that this is a potential
issue for next year. As always, GAE will keep its members informed of any
action on this issue.
One bill that GAE supported but that failed to become law
this year was SB 30 which was initially sponsored by Sen.
Fort (Atlanta). This year, following Sen. Fort’s departure from
the legislature, SB 30 was presented to the House Education
Committee by Sen. Nan Orrock (Atlanta).
SB 30 would have created a grant process to fund a pilot program
implementing Community School initiatives. Recognizing the proven
impact of the Community Schools model on student achievement, GAE
supported this bill and provided crucial testimony during several committee
hearings. GAE will continue to work on building awareness around the
issue of community-driven strategies for improving struggling schools.
Other notable legislation that failed:
HB 273 (Douglas, Stockbridge) provided for a scheduled,
daily 30 minute recess in grades K-5.
HB 759 (Turner, Holly Springs) changed public school
attendance requirements for Georgia’s special education
voucher eligibility to provide a one-time waiver for the prior
year attendance requirement for students who previously
qualified for the scholarship.
Changes to the Landscape
The 2019 Session promises to provide new challenges for public education.
Longtime House Education Chair Brooks Coleman is retiring. Additionally, on
the last day of the Session the Senate Education and
Youth Committee Chair Lindsey Tippins announced, quite unexpectedly, that
he is relinquishing his chairmanship. The uncertainty of new appointments
to these pivotal positions, combined with a new Governor and Lt. Governor,
has created concern on the part of many public education advocates. We at
GAE are grateful for the many years of dedicated leadership by Chairman
Coleman and Chairman Tippins, and truly mourn their leaving as they both
were true champions for public education.
We hope GAE members will stay tuned for legislative updates; your voices
will be needed now, more than ever.
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