Education: Week Two Legislative Update

Legislative Calendar
The legislative adjournment calendar has been set until February 18.  This date will mark the 24th legislative day of the 2014 legislative session.  Legislators will convene every day, Monday through Friday until February 24, with the exception of Valentine’s Day (February 14).

Legislative Action

Full Senate

Senate Bill 297 Passed full Senate

Local school board members who intend to spend no more than $2,500 during an election cycle would not have to file campaign finance reports.  Declarations would be filed locally.

House Education and Youth

The committee meeting was brief.  New chairs for each subcommittee were announced and several bills were assigned to each.  He also commented on the great response members of the General Assembly received from educators regarding the listening sessions that were held this fall. One important change to the committee meetings this year is a provision that bills will only be assigned to subcommittee if the committee feels comfortable taking them on.  This will reduce the number of bills that are heard, particularly ones that are least likely to pass the entire House.

Representative Brooks Coleman, the chair of the education committee, ended by stating three targets for this session:

Three Targeted Areas for the House committee this session

  1.  HB 327 (Coleman).  This bill deals with flexibility provisions (e.g., class size waivers, expenditure waivers) that school districts have been provided during the economic recession. Several years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation that would require districts to become IE2 districts, charter systems or publicly announce that they were sticking to the “status quo.”  If the flexibility bill is extended, then this requirement would also be extended out.
  2.  Title 20 revisions.  While the chairman did not provide many details, he communicated that he planned to make general revisions to Title 20.  Title 20 is the legal code section for education legislation in the Official Code of Georgia. The chairman hinted that some other pending bills may be added to any Title 20 bill, but did not provide any details on specific bills or topics.
  3. Common Core.  It was stated that this is a very hot topic among parents and that more discussion is needed on this subject.  Chairman Coleman said that listening sessions on this subject matter will be held. Many parents and community members discussed Common Core opposition during the General Assembly’s listening sessions held throughout the state.  It was also suggested that the House will be working on some legislation related to Common Core, but no information was offered on what types of changes would be the focus.   Representative Coleman has requested specific information on concerns and other information from the public.  He specifically spoke about the many frustrations that have been voiced regarding the math standards.  Atlanta Public Schools is a supporter of Common Core and will be offering information regarding this support to the House Education committee.

Senate Education and Youth Committee

Three bills were heard at the first Senate Education and Youth Committee meeting:

Senate Bill 288 (Bethel): Motion to pass – motion carries unanimously

The Georgia High School Association, as a sanctioned bodied organization, is to provide financial reporting to the public. As it derives its revenue from taxpayers, budgets and audits should be public record. Currently, the financial reports are sent out by request.  The intent of the bill is to mandate that the organization make this information more readily available, preferably on their website.

Senate Bill 283 (Dugan): Motion to pass – motion carries unanimously

This bill provides clarity to school systems on the permissibility of providing instruction on seasonal breaks.  The bill permits instruction relating to religious or secular holidays.

Senate Bill 289 (McKoon): Bill referred to Policy Subcommittee

This bill would allow students to relay inspirational messages at a student run assembly. However, the bill does not make a distinction of “appropriateness.” This is student led. Students can vote on what they want as a student body. Local school board would have to adopt a policy permitting these actions.

Newly Introduced Legislation

House Bill 793 (Turner)

This bill, also known as the Fiscal Accountability Act, would prohibit local school systems from receiving federal funds.  This prohibition would include loans and grants and would be for any purpose or in any form unless it has been expressly and specifically approved by an Act of the General Assembly.

House Bill 796 (Carson)

The bill seeks to make private contractors that do business with public entities subject to the Open Records Act (including personnel and payroll records).

House Bill 810 (Chandler)

Home school students that score above the 80th percentile for a national standardized test (SAT or ACT), would qualify for the HOPE scholarship.  The intent of this bill is to lower the qualifying score for eligibility.

House Bill 811 (Chandler)

This bill would allow local boards to have advertisements on school buses.  The bill also allows school boards to set the terms and conditions for these advertisements.

House Bill 826 (Setzler)

This bill deals with zero tolerance provisions, by striking the current definition for weapons and replacing it with firearms. This change in definition would make the zero tolerance policy only apply to firearms.  This affects schools because the current code says if a student is found in possession of a gun in a school zone, then that student is automatically expelled for a school year.  With this code change, only students found with a firearm would be subject to the year-long expulsion.

House Bill 832 (Glanton)

Special education would be deemed as a high needs area and therefore be moved above the regular salary schedule step.  This essentially allows special needs teachers to get the same state salary supplement already provided to math and science teachers.

House Resolution 1109 (Welch)

This Constitutional amendment and the enabling legislation (House Bill 802) would amend the statute regarding e-SPLOST.  The bill adds a category of educational programs and materials to the allowable uses for up to 50% of the proceeds.  However, the allowable uses for educational programs and materials are very specific.  Allowable uses include the following:

Technology personnel and infrastructure;

Security personnel and equipment;

Educational software, digital learning modules, and instructional online content;

Arts and music education;

Foreign language education;

Remedial education;

Graduation counseling;

Career counseling;

Summer school;

Medical personnel, supplies, and equipment;

Library or media center personnel and supplies;

Laboratory equipment;

Athletic equipment;

Textbooks;

After school programs; or

Any combination of the foregoing

Senate Bill 301 (Millar)

This bill allows for school buildings/construction in wood.

Senate Bill 300 (Mullis)

The bill extends the qualifying ACT/SAT timeframe to allow additional students to receive the Zell Miller scholarship.  Students may now use the score from the next test date following their graduation.

Senate Bill 310 (Jackson)

The bill increases the compulsory attendance age from 16 to 17 ½-years old.

Senate Resolution 782 (Hill)

This resolution creates a joint study committee on the design of TRS.  Members joining after July 1, 2015 would be defined contributions versus defined benefits.

Hot Topics

It is rumored that a new version of the gun bills from last legislative session may be introduced.  Previous gun bills allowed for administrators on all school campuses to carry firearms. The language regarding guns on college campuses will be eliminated, but we will have to watch and review the K-12 language.

The governor is also expected to present changes to the State Health Benefit Plan coverage based on customer complaints on the new health plans available for state and local school system employees. The plan design changes being considered by the DCH board will replace out-of-pocket and co-insurance for office/rehab/ER visits with co-pays. The proposed co-pays are identical to those contained in the 2013 HMO wellness option. Preventive care office visits will continue to be covered by the plan at 100%.

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