Below is a summary of the important education bills considered in the 2017 Georgia
Legislative Session. This was the first year of Georgia’s biennial legislative process, so this
summary includes bills that passed both chambers of the Georgia Legislature and also
includes bills that did not pass both chambers but are still “alive” for next year’s session.
BILLS THAT PASSED THIS YEAR
16 | KNOW • Volume 15 Issue 2
The most widely-known piece of education legislation this session
was HB 338, now known as “The First Priority Act.” This bill
represented a new effort by Governor Deal to focus on struggling
schools following last fall’s overwhelming defeat of his proposed
Opportunity School District (OSD).
Rather than allowing the state to take over “failing schools” via a
constitutional amendment, as the OSD proposed, the First Priority
Act creates a legislative process for the state to assist struggling
schools and students. GAE and other education advocates worked
collaboratively with the bill’s sponsor and other education leaders to
refine the bill through numerous drafts and amendments.
In essence, this bill recognizes that current Georgia law already
allows state intervention into struggling schools and creates a
mechanism for assisting schools in improving academic outcomes
in order to avoid such intervention. The bill narrowly identifies
the schools eligible for such turnaround assistance, using the
Department of Education’s (DOE) definition of “the lowest 5% of
schools in the state” identified in accordance with the statewide
accountability system under federal law. These “turnaround eligible
schools” will be offered amended flexibility contracts allowing them
to accept additional state resources. Such schools will undergo
comprehensive evaluations to develop strategic improvement
plans and each school will have three years to show improvement
pursuant to that plan before state intervention is a possibility.
GAE was instrumental in assuring that the bill included a focus
on struggling students, as well as struggling schools. These “low
performing students” will receive evaluations and Turnaround
Coaches in the community will help identify resources to assist these
students, including state funds available through a grant process.
The newly created Chief Turnaround Officer (CTO) will oversee
the efforts. GAE will be represented on the Education Turnaround
Council and will be able to have input on the CTO selection and
Among the grant programs that low performing schools may access
is the new “Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation,” created
pursuant to HB 237. This tax credit program has a $5 million cap,
sunsets in three years, and will be overseen by the Governor’s
Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). GAE typically opposes tax
credit programs for educational purposes because they traditionally
involve diverting public dollars to private schools. The program
created by HB 237, however, will only benefit public schools and
will provide additional state resources for low performing schools.