Our legislature has concluded their session for this year. Often, this is a relief to me, as I see many of their actions as a bit frightening (witness the relaxing of concealed weapons law that nearly passed!) Our State PTA does an excellent job lobbying, tracking and reporting on legislation relating to education. (Your PTA dues in action!) They say that although the session has ended, "It may be several days, mid week next, before the House Clerk and the Secretary of the Senate will have final information available." So, until the governor signs off, these bills are not officially laws.
From the information in the oral reports, the Education budget has $500 million plus added to the austerity cut, bringing that total hit to about $1.4 billion in next year’s budget.
- School nurse funding was cut an additional $750,000 (total $2.3M) on top of the cuts proposed by the House ($1.6M)
- Governor’s Honors Program, agreed with House version to reduce program to four weeks this summer but eliminated all funding for the summer of 2011
- Restored funding for CRCT testing in 1st and 2nd grade and for ITBS and PSATs
HB 23-Drivers causing an accident while using specified wireless devices shall have stronger penalties than those not using such devices. Drivers under age 18 cannot use a cell phone nor text message while driving. Exceptions are made for driver emergencies, reporting an accident or criminal activity, or using while parked. Penalty is 1 point on the drivers license and/or a fine of $150.
SB 308, the gun bill, was passed in the House in a much different form from the Senate. Hopefully, it will never get passed. It does away with the 1000 foot school safety zone. So, guns can be banned from the building, but not the school parking lot.
The teacher groups were calling out the troops to oppose the governor’s plan to have a uniform evaluation instrument and to include student achievement scores as a part of the evaluation. This provision had been added to SB 521 which deals with more funding for the high school if a student takes a post secondary course on the high school campus. To preserve the funding proposal, the author amended it to a teacher scholarship bill that passed both chambers in different forms in 2009 but was never reconciled. Whether the evaluation instrument requirement will survive in SB 521 or be amended to another bill remains to be seen.
SB 340: Every year, local school systems and private schools must transmit to GA School Finance Commission an electronic transcript of courses and grades for each freshman, sophomore and junior high school student, grading scales used in the school, state required test scores for the purpose of calculating the GPA for potential HOPE scholarships. Currently, only the seniors’ records must be sent. Now you’ll know if you’re child is eligible for HOPE.
SB 496: Creates a new HOPE college opportunity grant for students from low income families if money appropriated from the lottery. Has all the requirements of the current HOPE scholarship except for the B average. About 97% of those receiving PELL grants have family incomes of less than $40,000; 80% have family incomes of less than $30,000. GA Student Finance Commission will administer the program, and use the PELL grant process as a basis for evaluating students. As with the other HOPE, students must be a graduate from a GA high school and a legal resident for 12 months, or if not a graduate from a GA high school, they must be a resident for 24 months.
HB 1013 - Local school boards must publish an annual summary of their SPLOST finances showing each project, original estimated costs, current estimated costs, amount expended last year and in the current year.
HB 400- Fran Millar's BRIDGE, Building Resourceful Individuals to Develop Georgia’s Economy Act finally appears to have passed into law. Individual Graduation Plan is required for all students, created in grade 8 and reviewed annually with the student in high school. The career education program needs to be offered only in low performing schools which graduate less than 60% and receive a state funded grant. If student still does not earn a high school diploma, any industry certification the student earns will be considered in a requested waiver to the SBOE for a high school diploma. This version is permissive on local schools, a good thing in a year when neither the state nor the local schools have discretionary funds for new programs. The State Board of Education has adopted new curriculum and graduation requirements that remove the distinction between college preparatory and career readiness diplomas, increase the requirements for math and science for all students and have very few electives slots available for the student. The Individual Graduation Plan will be a lot of work but may be very beneficial in tracking every student’s achievement in attaining graduation credits.
Another bill sponsored by Millar, Kathy Ashe and others, along with Dunwoody rep, Dan Weber in the Senate, seems to have passed into law allows a "cluster", consisting of a high school and it's feeder schools, to apply for charter status if approved by voters in a referendum. This could be a game-changer for DeKalb schools as clusters such as Dunwoody, Tucker and others could effectively insulate themselves somewhat from the board and administration. Do you think that creating charter clusters would be beneficial? What do you think will be the benefits and/or ill effects of this law? Here it is:
SB457 - "A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Code Section 20-2-2064 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to approval or denial of charter petitions, so as to provide that a local board of education may act on a petition for a conversion charter school for a high school cluster if approved by a majority of the qualified voters in a referendum; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes."
Many thanks to the Georgia PTA for their hard work and excellent reporting.
For additional information, go to Capitol Watch on the Georgia PTA website: www.ciclt.net/gapta
2nd Vice President