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Legislative and Budget Issues



OCTOBER LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPDATE:

 

REMINDER:  The Georgia General Election is on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.   The voter registration deadline is October 9, 2018, and early voting is available October 15 – November 5, 2018.

 

In this update, I will provide some general  information regarding the role of the Lieutenant Governor and will follow with a brief summary of the platforms of each candidate with respect to education.   

 

GENERAL INFORMATIN RGARDING THE POSITION OF THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR:

*The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Georgia Senate and is also responsible for committee assignments. 

  Of course, the Lieutenant Governor assumes the position of Governor in the event of necessity.   

*The Lieutenant Governor cannot vote unless there is a tie and cannot introduce bills.  He or she must be 30 years old and must have been a resident  of Georgia for 6 years. 

*The Lieutenant Governor serves a 4 year term, and there is no limit on the number of terms that can be served. 

*The positions of Lieutenant Governor and Governor are elected separately making it possible for these positions to be held by individuals from different political parties.

 

CANDIDATES FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR:

**Please note that the information provided below is general in its nature and scope **   

 

SARAH RIGGS AMICO:  Democratic nominee   

Background:  Ms. Amico earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and currently owns a very successful car haul company in Kennesaw.  She lives in Marietta with her husband and 2 daughters. 

She serves on the Board of PAWS Atlanta, which is Atlanta’s oldest no kill shelter.

  

*Top priority is increasing funding for  education in Georgia.

*Supports providing a quality education to all students by employing innovations in classrooms, rewarding good teachers, and partnering with businesses to expand vocational and technical training in high schools to ensure Georgia’s young people are ready for the workforce. 

*Seeks to increase teacher’s salaries based on her concern that many highly qualified  teachers leave the profession due, in large part,  to low pay

*Is not opposed to charter schools provided that public schools are fully funded first

*States that “public schools are one of the single most important investments we can make as a state”

 

GEOFF DUNCAN: Republican nominee       

Background:  Mr. Duncan attended Georgia Tech and played baseball for the Yellow Jackets. He went on to play for the Florida Marlins in the minor league for 6 years. He lives in Cumming with his wife and 3 sons. 

                            He is the CEO of a healthcare technology company and a small business owner.  He served in the House of Representatives from 2012-2017.

*Strongly supports school choice and seeks to modernize funding strategies for education

*Supports implementing an Education Savings Account (“ESA”) program that would allow parents to decide how state education dollars are spent on their children

[To implement this program, the state would deposit the amount of money it spends for a child’s education into an account for the child;

parents would then use the money solely for education-related purposes such as tuition, tutoring, online learning programs, fees for courses/testing, etc.]

*Supports making changes to standardized testing

*Supports expansion of technical schools and career academies

*States that education is the “cornerstone” of Georgia’s future 


AUGUST 2018 LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPDATE:

 

Welcome to the 2018-19 school year!  I thought I would begin my first update with a few interesting facts.  Did you know that Gwinnett County Public Schools has about  180,000 students enrolled this year in its 140 schools?  Gwinnett County School District employs about 23,000 people and remains the largest employer in Gwinnett County.  The National Council on Teacher Quality designated the Gwinnett County School District as one of the “Outstanding Great Districts For Great Teachers.”    Norcross High School is the third largest high school in Gwinnett County with an enrollment of about 3375 students.  Thanks to our administrators, teachers, and staff for everything they do to ensure our children receive a quality education while also providing them with the opportunity to participate in athletics, clubs, and extra-curricular activities.

 

On to politics! The Georgia General Election is on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.   The voter registration deadline is October 9, 2018, and early voting is available October 15 – November 5, 2018. 

In this update, I will provide some information regarding the Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor.   In  future updates, I will do the same for the Lieutenant  Governor and the State Superintendent of Schools. 

 

CANDIDATES FOR GOVERNOR:

 

STACEY ABRAMS:  Democratic nominee and former House minority leader  

*Committed to keeping public dollars in the public school system and opposes “back door vouchers” which she contends remove resources from public education

*Committed to adopting a revised and more modernized version of the Quality Basic Education Act’s formula (education funding formula)

*Committed to investing in wraparound services in order to address ancillary issues that negatively affect a student’s performance (nutrition services, medical/hearing tests,  mental health services, assistance for transient families, etc)

*Committed to the creation of an apprenticeship program that will create 22,000 new apprenticeships in a wide range of fields  by the year 2022

*Committed to the repeal of the campus carry legislation

*Committed to the elimination of student scholarship organizations (tax credit program for private school scholarships)

*Committed to improvement in school safety measures by increasing school resource officers, providing mental health support/intervention strategies, and making structural  improvements to schools to improve security

 

BRIAN KEMP:  Republican nominee and Secretary of State      

*Committed to expanding school choice and promoting equitable charter school funding

*Committed to restructuring and updating the Quality Basic Education formula

*Committed to doubling the SSO tax credit cap on nonprofit organizations that fund scholarships for students to attend private schools(currently capped at $100 million)

*Committed to ending Common  Core (federal math and reading standard )

*Committed to expanding the HOPE Career Grant Program to include fields such as aviation, construction, automotive technology, and electrical

* Committed to continued support of the campus carry legislation

*Committed to  ensuring power/control is placed in the hands of local school boards, superintendents, and educators in all respects (including implementation of plans deemed necessary  to improve security and protect students from gun violence) 



April 2018 LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPDATE:

When a bill has been approved by both chambers, it then goes to the Governor for his/her signature or  veto.  Few bills are signed promptly following their passage, but as the Governor makes these decisions, they are announced on his/her  website.  So, you always have the ability to check this website if you have particular interest in a bill.  The Governor has 40 days following the end of the legislative session to sign or veto a bill.  If no action is taken, the bill becomes a law.  May 8, 2018, is the signing deadline.  This year, one very high profile bill was signed into law in early March by Governor Deal.  This bill updated Georgia’s adoption code in order to streamline the process. 

 

Governor Nathan Deal signed the $26 billion Fiscal Year 2019 budget on May 2, 2018!  The focus of the budget appears to be our education system and our transportation system.  In fact, 54% of the budget is devoted to education-related initiatives. The budget adds $365 million into the Teacher’s Retirement System to ensure our teachers’ pensions are protected and are financially solid. In addition, it  includes $26.7 million for the Dual Enrollment program that so many of our students take advantage of; $3 million to promote and encourage the availability of educational opportunities at our State’s technical colleges; 16 million to improve school safety; and over $510 million in NEW funding for K-12 education including $167 million to fully and completely fund the Quality Based Education formula.   A significant portion of the budget  is marked for transportation initiatives including expansion of our highway system and infrastructure including bridge repair and replacement as well as local transit system improvements.    

 

Governor Deal also signed the “Hands Free Georgia Act” on May 2, 2018. As stated in my prior update, this law will make it illegal to hold a cellphone while you are driving except to push one button to answer or end a telephone call.  You can be pulled over if your phone is near your face, and you may even be cited if you are using your phone while sitting at a traffic light or stop sign.  Bluetooth is allowed, and you may use your phone while you are lawfully parked.   The law will go into effect on July 1st although there will be a 90 day grace period during which law enforcement will work to educate motorists about this new law.  

 

ON A FINAL NOTE, PLEASE VOTE IN GEORGIA’S PRIMARY ELECTION ON MAY 22, 2018!

 

There are also 8 locations  where you may vote early.  The main location is located in Lawrenceville, but you may check the Gwinnett County website for a list of all of the locations. Earle voting ends on May 18th.  Voters may review sample ballots on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website on the My Voter Page.  Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, please research the candidates and exercise your right to vote! If you have not yet registered,  you will not be allowed to vote in the Primary Election.  BUT, as long as you register by October 9, you will be eligible to vote in the November 6, 2018, General Election.




March 2018 LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPDATE: 


The Georgia General Assembly will be in session through March 31, 2018.  The final day for the General Assembly to vote on bills is March 29, 2018, and the last day for Governor Deal to sign or veto bills is May 8, 2018.  Any bills that are untouched by the Governor become law.  Most bills passed during this legislative session will become law on July 1, 2018, unless otherwise stated.  In early April, I will provide an update of legislation that passed during this session and is awaiting action by the Governor. 

One notable bill that I did not mention in my last update is HB 673 which would make Georgia a hands free driving state.  It has passed the House and  is awaiting action by the Senate.  Under the proposed law, a driver could swipe his/her phone once to begin a call and once to end it.    Drivers can continue to use their phone for GPS but only on a hands free basis.  This law would also increase fines for distracted driving from the current rate of $150 to $300 - $450 for the first offense with a second offense costing drivers anywhere from $400-$650.  Three citations could cost up to $900.  Judges would have discretion to determine the fine imposed based on the severity of the circumstances.  Also, points against a driver’s license for distracted driving would increase from one to three points for the first offense.  Each additional offense would be four points.  This proposed law has particular applicability to our student population, but, of course,  many distracted drivers are not teenagers making this proposed law applicable to all of us.


January 2018 Legislation Committee Update:

 

The 2018 legislative session began on January 8, 2018!  The legislature is expected to pass a more than $20 billion budget and address a variety of issues during this session including religious freedom, adoptions, health care, regional transportation, relocation of confederate monuments, and enhancement of development in rural areas. Because this is an election year, the legislative session will most likely be shorter to enable lawmakers to campaign since they are prohibited from doing so during session.  Below are several key legislative issues pertaining to education that warrant your attention:

 

1).  House Bill 788:  This piece of legislation basically says that a student will be allowed to enroll in any school  for which a parent/guardian certifies that an individual residing in said school’s attendance zone has authorized that parent/guardian to use such individual’s address for purpose of establishing residency.  Representative Valencia Stovall is the lead co-sponsor of this bill, which is apparently  intended to break the traditional connection between neighborhood and school. 

2).  House Bill 778:  This piece of legislation is intended to change who controls career, technical, and agricultural education.  At present, the Department of Education and the state education board control these programs; this bill would transfer control to the Technical College System of Georgia’s board which is the agency that oversees technical colleges.  The intent of this bill is to designate a single entity having “the sole purpose of training students with employable skills and aligning those skills seamlessly from secondary to postsecondary education.” 

3). Senate Bill 68:  This bill proposes the implementation of an Education Savings Account (“ESA”) program in Georgia which would allow parents to take state funds to pay for private educational services such as private school tuition, tutoring, and even postsecondary tuition and fees. These accounts are intended to provide flexibility and unique or customized education options for parents.  Under an ESA, the state would  put money into a restricted account that parents would control and that could only be used for  education-related expenses.  All students eligible to enroll in the public school system would be eligible to participate in this program including private school students and those who are homeschooled. The estimated cost of this program for the first three years is $865 million.

4).  Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion: House Bill 217 introduced in 2017 failed to pass on the last day of the legislative session but could still be passed this year.  At present, the cap on this program is $58 million, and lawmakers are considering raising the cap again this year.  The House is currently proposing raising the  cap to  $85 million, as opposed to the $100 million cap proposed last year.  Proponents argue these scholarships provide families with the ability to seek out the right education for their children; whereas, opponents argue this private school tax break should not be expanded due to the lack of transparency and accountability associated with the program.          


November 2017 LEGISLATION COMMITTEE UPDATE

As you are aware, the next session of the Georgia General Assembly will begin in a few months – January 8, 2018, to be exact. This is also a campaign year with our State’s top two positions of Governor and Lieutenant Governor being open for the taking.  We will be casting our votes for these positions on November 6, 2018, and we should all begin to familiarize ourselves with the candidates for these positions and their platforms as they relate to education. I will provide a brief summary with respect to each declared candidate for Governor in this update and will do the same for Lieutenant Governor and State Superintendent of Schools in subsequent updates. Again, the summaries below are not intended to address all of the opinions and platforms of each candidate.       

 

DEMOCRAT:

(1).  Representative Stacey Abrams is the House Minority leader.  She supports strong reform in education and pledges to expand Georgia’s pre-k programs and work to make technical college education tuition free to Georgia students.  She states she will also encourage schools to teach computer science courses sooner to students.    

(2).  Representative Stacey Evans has served in the House of Representatives since 2011 and is making the HOPE scholarship program a focus of her campaign.  She fought Governor Deal’s cuts to the HOPE scholarship, and she strongly supports making technical colleges free.  She has also supported the school choice platform while in office. 

 

REPUBLICAN:

(1).  Lt. Governor Casey Cagle believes that the public education system should hold a place for both scholars and skilled workers and that there should be an overlap of technical education and high school education.  It is relevant to note that he established the College and Career Academy Network which provides students with opportunities to experience technical fields while attending high school. He also recognizes the importance of charter schools in our education system. 

(2).  Senator Hunter Hill was elected to the Senate in 2012 and is known for his support for education savings accounts and other such programs that expand school choice to Georgia students regardless of income level.  He is a U.S. army veteran who vows to advocate for school vouchers.  He also supports the removal of state income tax. 

(3).  Secretary of State Brian Kemp believes our education system should place an emphasis on school choice and supports charter schools for those living in communities with struggling schools.  He also supports virtual education opportunities for rural students and emphasizes the importance of recruiting teachers to serve in rural areas.  Doubling the private school Scholarship Tax Credits is also a part of his platform. 

(4).  Representative Michael Williams is running a largely self-funded campaign for Governor. He is strong conservative who supports the growth of the voucher program and feels that parents should be in charge of the education of their children.  He also believes that home-schooled students should have improved access to school athletic programs and facilities and that college tuition rates should be frozen. 

 

September 2017 Legislative Committee Update:


WELCOME BACK!!  As THE 2017-18 school year begins, I want to share just a few facts with you about Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett County School District.

These facts are intended to remind us all of the size of our county and the huge task associated with educating our children. 

 

1).  Gwinnett County is 437 square miles, and 80% of the US population is within a 2 hour flight of Gwinnett County. 

2).  The most recent estimate of the population of Gwinnett County is 907,135.  In 2000, our population was approximately 588,448, and by 2010, our population had grown to about 805,321. 

       Our county is the 2nd largest in the State of Georgia.

3).  The projected 2017-18 school enrollment for Gwinnett County is 180,186.

4).   We have the 13th largest school district in the nation. 

5).   The cost of educating one student in Gwinnett County is $8,853 annually, and our budget for the 2018 fiscal year is $2.092 billion.

6).  The Gwinnett County School District employs 23,300 people and is the largest employer in Gwinnett County.    

 

We are all aware that Gwinnett County is LARGE, but these facts emphasize just how large we really are and what a huge role education plays in our county.  As you consider these facts, please also consider the challenges we face this year (and every year) in the area of education.  These challenges include classroom size, poverty, technological advances, attitudes/behaviors of our students (bullying being a primary example), funding, parental involvement, and teacher retention & support.  As the 2017-18 school year progresses, I will provide updates regarding the education-related issues addressed by our legislature and will attempt to keep everyone as informed as possible.  Please let me know if there are specific issues that you would like to have addressed in future updates.  My e-mail address is melanie.pazol@gmail.com.



LEGISLATION UPDATE (4/14/17):


The forty day 2017 legislative session has come to an end!  The information below addresses some of the most relevant education-related legislation approved and forwarded to Governor Deal for his signature:

 

(1).  First Priority Act (HB338):  Georgia voters said “no” to the Opportunity School District Amendment in November.  This year the legislature passed a similar yet different plan to address troubled schools.  House Bill 338 allows failing schools to maintain local control for at least 3 years before a potential “take over” comes into play.  If there is no improvement in the lowest performing schools after this period, state education officials may then take action.  The list of the lowest performing schools is determined by the Department of Education using Federal guidelines.  In order to assist these schools during this 3 year period, a “Chief Turnaround Officer” will be selected and employed by the Department of Education and will report directly to this department rather than to the elected school superintendent.  This Officer will employ “coaches” or private managers (non-profit) to assist school districts with the identification of the problems or roadblocks to higher achievement while also assisting with the establishment of individualized improvement plans.  The turnaround chief and his/her coaches will also work with the schools to track the progress made toward the overall goal of improving grades and student performance.  If there is no improvement at the conclusion of this 3 year period, education officials have the power to fire staff, turn a school into a charter school, or allow parents to send their children to other schools. The financial burden of improvement rests with the individual school districts, and they must implement improvement plans largely at their own expense.       

(2).  School Test Refusal Bill (HB425): This legislation gives students a clear right to refuse to take state tests without any repercussions.  The Georgia Department of Education points out that parents already have the right to refuse, but supporters of this legislation contend that some students are punished in subtle ways.  This law requires districts to develop “alternate instructional activities” for those refusing to take the tests. This bill also allows students the option of taking state-mandated assessments with paper and pencil.  This is significant because Georgia is currently moving toward mandatory online testing for all students.

(3).  Cost of living Adjustment:  The $25 billion State of Georgia budget for the 2018 fiscal year holds GREAT news for Georgia teachers, school bus drivers, school nurses, and other state employees.  They will receive a long overdue 2 percent cost of living adjustment if the proposed budget is signed by the governor!    

(4).  Campus Carry Bill (HB280):  This bill permits adults 21 years of age or older having a concealed weapon permit to carry a gun on college campuses.  Governor Deal vetoed a similar version last year, but exceptions were added this year for athletic events, dormitories, Greek houses, classes in which high school students are present as well as faculty and administrative offices and disciplinary hearings.  Concealed weapons are not allowed in these restricted areas in the new version of this bill.  Governor Deal has indicated that he is “receptive” to the bill this year with due to the addition of the foregoing restrictions.  

(5).  Flexibility in Testing (SB211):  Generally speaking, this law will provide local school systems with a degree of flexibility to decide whether to use nationally recognized assessments in place of current state assessments.  In short, local districts will be allowed to choose approved assessments to meet the state and federal mandates for student testing.   

(6).  Daily recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade (HB273):  NOT APPROVED - Mandatory recess is out!  This bill proposed requiring 30 minutes of outside (if possible) supervised, unstructured activity time for students in kindergarten through fifth grade each day and stated that it could not be taken away as a punishment.  It was tabled by the Senate. 



JANUARY 2017 LEGISLATION UPDATE:

 

What does the election of Donald Trump as our President mean for education?  The answer to this question is somewhat unclear at this point.  As referenced in my previous update, he has definitely indicated a clear desire to reduce the involvement of our federal government in education.  During his campaign, he also promised that he would respect state and local control of public education.  Some argue, however, that his primary objective is to privatize education, particularly in light of his nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education. As many of you are likely aware, Ms. DeVos is a strong advocate of charter schools and vouchers, and her background has raised strong concerns among many educators. It is indeed true that President Trump and his administration will undoubtedly encourage more private/for-profit organizations to compete with public schools for federal dollars.  We can be certain of one thing, if nothing else, and that is the increase in discussion and debate regarding the expansion of school choice  - a change which definitely appears to be on the horizon. 

 

There are many other education issues that will also likely receive a lot of attention this year.  These include the following:  (1) affordability of postsecondary education and the role of our federal government with respect to providing student loans; (2) possible revisions to the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), which was hotly debated last year; (3) rights of transgender students;  (4) school nutrition standards, which was a primary focus of Michelle Obama; and (5) Common Core standards. Stay tuned for future updates as these issues continue to unfold in 2017.  



Mid-November 2016 Legislation Committee Update:


WELL, THE ELECTION IS FINALLY OVER AND WHAT A “UNIQUE” ELECTION IT WAS.  The burning question on our minds now is where does President-elect Donald Trump stand on education? The general consensus at this point is that he is pro-charter & pro-voucher while also believing  that the role of the federal government in education should be scaled back.   Due to the fact that Republicans control both the House and the Senate, there is a chance that  some form of a federally funded voucher program could indeed be enacted.  As far as higher education is concerned, President-elect Trump has indicated that he would like to make college more affordable for our youth and has mentioned capping student loan repayments as well as implementing income-based repayment plans.  He is also very much opposed to Common Core.  Vice-President-elect Mike Pence also strongly supports local control of schools with minimal involvement from the federal government.  He has a history of supporting charter schools and vouchers but was quite tough on low-performing charter schools while governor of Indiana.   The bottom line is we are likely to see more decision-making power placed back in the hands of the states and local governments.   

 

As you know, Georgia voters said “no” to the Opportunity School District Amendment.  In fact, about 60% of Georgia voters rejected the proposed Amendment.  There was a great deal of commercial time devoted to this issue prior to the election, and it was certainly unclear how Georgians would vote when election day arrived.  This was the only constitutional amendment of the four proposed to voters that failed to pass.  Overall, it appears that the message sent by voters was that they view schools as a local issue and that they do not want the state to have the ability to seize control of schools and the taxes going to those schools.  I think we all agree, however, that changes to our public education system are necessary.  My hope is that we will all work together to determine what the necessary changes are  and how best to implement them.      

 


November 2016 Legislation Committee Update:


November 8 is a huge day for Georgia and our country.  Please exercise your right to vote.  The debates are over, but we are hearing new information everyday regarding our Presidential candidates  - good and not so good.  Please READ and RESEARCH before you vote.  Don’t rely on what you hear in the various forms of media bombarding us from morning until  night.  Early voting is taking place now until November 4.  Polls are open from  7:00  a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on November 8.  If you are in line at 7:00 p.m., you are allowed to vote.  There are 8 satellite voting locations in Gwinnett County.  In Norcross, Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center located at 4651 Britt Road is perhaps the closest location to our area, but Shorty Howell Park located at 2750 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth is also a close satellite location for early voting.  

 

Although this very unique Presidential election is consuming our thoughts as November 8 approaches, please don’t forget to also do your research on Amendment 1 involving the creation of an Opportunity School District in Georgia.  This is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that, if passed, will result in a significant change in education in Georgia.  There is information on this amendment contained in the Blue Devil Bulletin that many receive electronically on a weekly basis,  and an overview has been provided in prior updates on the PTSA website.  In short, a “yes” vote will authorize the state to form an Opportunity School District that will govern certain elementary and secondary schools determined to be chronically failing.  State officials will play an aggressive role in taking over struggling schools.  It  has created very heated debate and varying opinions.  Please give this measure serious thought and  consideration prior to voting.


October 2016 Legislation Committee Update:

 

VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!  The Presidential Election is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.  This is also a school holiday for our students and teachers.  Please make sure that you exercise your right to vote in this very important election.  As we are all abundantly aware, Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s nominee, and Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s nominee.  If you would like to see a sample ballot prior to the election, one source I encourage you to visit is the My Voter Page located at  www.mvp.sos.ga.gov/MVP/mvp.do.   There is a great deal of information located here relating to voter registration, absentee ballots, early voting, and even directions to your polling place.  Please note that the deadline for registering to vote is October 11, 2016.

 

DEBATES! DEBATES! DEBATES!  The Vice-Presidential debate between Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana is tonight, October 4, 2016, at 9:00 p.m.  Of course, Tim Kaine is Senator Clinton’s running mate, and she has been vocal about the fact that she expects him to be a full partner in government and a close counselor if she is elected.  Mike Pence is Mr. Clinton’s running mate, and he is a forceful advocate with a somewhat less defined role at this point in the process (in my opinion. Both gentlemen appear to be relatively mild-mannered, but you never know how the evening will play out!  If you miss the debate, I encourage you to watch the recap and/or read about the issues addressed.    

 

As you are aware, the first Presidential debate took place on September 26, 2016.  It was divided into multiple segments addressing issues of the moderator’s choosing including the economy/job creation, trade, federal deficit, race relations/policing, war on terror, foreign policy, and each candidate’s individual experience in politics and business.  The second debate will take place on October 9, 2016, at 9:00 p.m. and will be conducted in a “town meeting”  format with half of the questions posed by citizens and the remainder posed by the moderators.  The topics of this debate will be related more to broad public interest issues.  The third debate will take place on October 19, 2016, at 9:00 p.m. and it will follow the same format as that of the first debate.    Please tune in for these debates as you are evaluating the candidates and the issues prior to the upcoming election.  

 


August 2016 Legislation Committee Update

WELCOME BACK!  As the election approaches, everyone is reminded to get out and vote on November 8, 2016!  Please note that early voting/in person absentee voting begins on October 17.  One very important issue involving education is Senate Resolution 287 which asks voters to amend the Georgia Constitution to allow for the formation of the Opportunity School District (OSD).  It requires a two-thirds majority approval to pass.  As I indicated in previous Legislation updates, this Resolution is controversial and only passed by one vote to make its way to Governor Deal for signature!  If approved by the voters in November,  the OSD will basically be a separate school system made up of 100 of the state’s lowest performing schools.  The governor’s Office of Student Achievement will oversee the district with a superintendent  who reports to and is hired by the governor. I encourage you to go to the Georgia PTA website to review detailed information regarding the proposed amendment.  .  In addition, the  PTA is hosting University Workshops on OSD in the PTA state office located at 114 Baker Street, Atlanta GA  30308. These Workshops are held from 10:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. on 9/14/16, 9/17/16, 10/15/16, & 10/19/16. 

 In addition, please note that SB 364 passed and has been signed into law by Governor Deal.  This law provides for extremely important changes to testing and teacher evaluation requirements. In summary, the percentage of student growth measures on evaluations was reduced from 50% to 30% for teachers and 70% to 40% for leaders.  Also, the number of required tests was reduced from 32 to 24 during the K-12 grades. Educator evaluation reform and student testing relief were major legislative priorities during the 2016 General Assembly, and the passage of this measure was unanimous!  

 I encourage you to listen to the May 12, 2016 podcast of the Georgia PTA Today available on the PTA website.  This podcast discusses what happened in the past legislative session and how it will affect Georgia’s students.  It is very informative. 



February 2016 Update

I.                 PRESIDENT OBAMA’S 2017 BUDGET PROPOSAL: There is a 2%  increase proposed over the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriation which is clearly beneficial to education as a whole.  President Obama proposes an  increase of $450 million for Title I and $100 million for Preschool Development Grants thereby acknowledging the increased need for funds designated to early learning and to providing more resources for disadvantaged students.  Unfortunately, funding was not included in the proposal for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers program which is included in the Every Student Succeeds Act.  This program is intended to provide school districts with the ability to implement and enhance family engagement policies and initiatives with the goal being to give families the tools to support the achievements of their children and to give districts the resources needed to build lasting and meaningful family-school partnerships. In addition, considerable increases in funding for special education were not proposed for 2017.  

II.               Voting on constitutional amendment to allow for  State intervention/takeover of chronically failing public schools: The legislature passed Senate Resolution 287 last Spring during the 2015 legislative session, and Georgia voters will have the opportunity to vote on the Opportunity School District legislation during the November 2016 general election.  The Constitutional Amendment will require support from a majority of the voters.  I have outlined this legislation in prior updates.  Heated arguments are ongoing on both sides of this issue and will certainly intensify as the election draws near.   This is an extremely important issue and voters are urged to read about the proposed amendment prior to voting.  The research, opinions, and implementation strategies are constantly evolving.

III.              Every Student Succeeds Act:   In December, President Obama signed into law an “overhaul” of the No Child Left Behind Act, and it is now termed the Every Child Succeeds Act (“ESSA”).  The greatest change to federal education policy made by ESSA is the transfer of power from the federal level back into the hands of the states particularly when it comes how students are tested and in what ways the test scores are used. State Superintendent Richard Woods has indicated that he is committed to looking at ways to reduce the burden of testing so often in schools in Georgia and is working toward developing new testing policies.

IV.              Teacher Keys Effectiveness System Bill:  This bill (SB364) amends the current Teacher Keys Effectiveness System.  The newest version just released is intended to moderate the influence of student test scores on teacher evaluations although maintaining the basic elements of the bill originally passed by the Senate last month.  Student test results remain a large component of teacher evaluations but reduces them from 50% (current law) to 30% (or perhaps as low as 20% based on the Senate’s version of the bill). In addition, the percentage of time that students would have to attend class to have their scores count in the teacher’s evaluation is increased significantly in this bill.  Currently, a student must attend class 65% of the time to have their scores count, but the amended bill would increase this figure to 90%. 


January 2016 Update

According to a Gallup poll conducted at the close of 2015, only 4% of the Americans surveyed considered education to be one of our nation’s most important problems. It will not surprise you to learn that the economy was considered to be the most significant problem at 33% followed by a poorly operated government (16%), immigration (8%), gun control (7%), and health care (6%). Education was in last place which is likely the reason the presidential candidates appear to focus more on other issues when addressing the public. In watching the recent debates and reading about the issues at the forefront of the 2016 campaign, the subject spoken about most often appears to be college affordability.  Generally speaking, the Democratic candidates seem to be focusing on reducing or eliminating college tuition; whereas, the Republican candidates are looking at alternatives that would encourage colleges to reduce their costs or making colleges responsible for student loan interest. This is indeed a very important issue for our high school students as they prepare for college.  As mentioned in my previous update, the Common Core curriculum and charter schools continue to be primary issues for debate. A relatively new issue that seems to be receiving more attention is the role that  standardized testing plays in public schools. It appears that a majority of voters in both the Republican and Democratic parties feel that there is too much emphasis placed on standardized testing. This issue is definitely gaining momentum, and I encourage you to read and consider the candidates’ positions on this issue.    

November 2015 Update

GEORGIA STATE INTERVENTION IN FAILING PUBLIC SCHOOLS AMENDMENT – SENATE BILL 133

               General Information: This  measure is a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that will be on the November 8, 2016, ballot.  You are likely familiar with or have read about this potential plan at some point, but it is indeed very significant and warrants your attention, thought, and independent research. If approved by voters next year, the State will have the power to take over the supervision, management, and operation of public elementary and secondary schools which are determined to be “failing” through one of several governance models allowed by law.  It is my understanding that schools are deemed eligible for takeover if they scored below 60 for 3 consecutive years on a state performance index.  At present, the Governor’s office has indicated that there are about 139 on the list with more than 60 being in the metro Atlanta area.  If the amendment is approved, Senate Bill 133 will go into effect on January 1, 2017.

            Governance Models: Senate Bill 133 is designed to provide for 3 governance models under the authority of an “Opportunity School District” (OSD) agency.  The Governor would appoint a superintendent to be in charge of this agency, and this superintendent would report directly to the Governor. The OSD superintendent would have the power to select, approve, and/or remove the schools’ principals, transfer teachers, and control the budgets of OSD schools as well as modify their education content. Specifically, the 3 intervention plans or governance models would allow (1) direct management by the OSD, (2)shared government of the school by the OSD and the local board of education, and (3) transformation of the school into a charter school.  A fourth intervention plan is the more drastic measure of complete school closure. The OSD superintendent is charged with the responsibility of implementing a process for receiving feedback from the community prior to implementing an intervention model for a failing school.

            For/Against: Governor Deal has termed this as his “signature education legislation and his legacy to Georgia’s student.”  He argues that change is necessary and that what we have done thus far has simply not worked. He contends that we have a moral duty to do everything possible to help children in failing schools and break the cycle of poverty from continuing from one generation to the next. The organization StudentsFirst Georgia also supports this measure.   Several organizations indicating opposition are Georgia Association of Educators and Georgia Parent-Teacher Association.  These organizations and those in opposition do not believe this legislation is the answer to the problem. They argue that schools belong to their local communities and that removing the responsibility and investment of the educators, school boards, and local school communities in their individual schools is a dangerous mistake.

            What’s Next:  At a minimum, we all can agree that our children and their education is of vital importance to our success as a State and as a country.  We can also agree that changes are necessary to improve our educational system.  This proposed amendment is a rather drastic change.  The best way to evaluate it and form an opinion is to take the time to volunteer in your local schools, talk to the educators of your children as well as the administration, and then research and continue to read about this plan.  Further information will be provided on the website over the next year.   


October 2015 Update


You may have seen the colorful signs located around Gwinnett County reminding us that KIDS COUNT.  These signs are posted in support of the renewal of the E-SPLOST (Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) which generates supplemental funding for education.  This is a one percent sales tax currently in place that is paid by everyone who shops in Gwinnett County . It is paid on retail sales and is separate from property taxes and other state & federal taxes.  In our county, E-SPLOST will fund the building of several new schools and renovations needed in existing schools.  It will also provide funds for technology upgrades and transportation improvements. E-SPLOST is projected to raise approximately  $950 million that will be disbursed proportionally to Gwinnett County and Buford City schools based on student enrollment.  E-SPLOST will appear on the November 3, 2015, county ballot.  You are encouraged to read about E-SPLOST and consider the benefits provided by this supplemental funding PRIOR to voting on November 3rd!!   There are various resources available for this purpose including www.gwinnettkidscount.com.       

 

Of course, the 2016 Presidential Election is on all of our minds!  There are a variety of candidates with a variety of backgrounds and ideas for the voters to consider.  The primary date for the State of Georgia is set for March 1, 2016.  At this point, the polling information I reviewed indicates that Hillary Clinton  (Democratic Party) and Donald Trump (Republican Party) are the frontrunners in Georgia.  Needless to say, as the campaign issues and the candidates’ positions on these issues continue to unfold, this polling data may certainly change. Where does education fit into the 2016 Presidential Election?  Several pivotal issues that have come to the surface in connection with the upcoming election are affordability, Common Core, teacher evaluations, and overall funding.  The Common Core education standards are expected to be a hot topic.  Although many state leaders in both parties initially supported the Common Core standards, some conservative leaders are no longer doing so and are now of the opinion that they represent a government takeover of education.  Candidate Jeb Bush, who has dedicated a great deal of his political career to education, continues to support the Common Core standards.  Time will tell with the other candidates!  It is important that we, as voters, do our own research and develop informed opinions regarding this issue and others.  On a different note, it appears that the American Federation of Teachers has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.   Of course, there are many endorsements yet to come for the various candidates.  STAY TUNED!            

 

Sept. 2015

Welcome back to NHS for the 2015-16 school year! The first update of the year is intended to provide you with an overview of the Georgia PTA legislative agenda/policy issues.  These are as follows: 

(1). Child Safety:  Stronger legislation will be sought for the purpose of reducing gun violence, criminal acts, abuse, cruelty, neglect, bullying, and unintentional injuries to children. An example of an issue that will be targeted is the danger of synthetic marijuana, tobacco and e-cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs as well as the improper use of over-the counter drugs. 

(2).  Education:  Action will be taken to support the overall improvement of our education system to ensure that students meet or exceed the required academic standards and are prepared to participate in a globally competitive workforce.  An example of a goal in this area is increasing the resources devoted to students with special needs and disabilities and, of course, increasing the overall funding of education to ensure our children are college and career ready.    

(3).  Family Engagement:  Action will be taken to encourage and support family involvement in every area of education due to the fact that research has shown that the students of families who are involved are more likely to have higher test scores and overall grades, higher attendance rates, better social skills, better behavior, and graduate from school on time.  A goal in this area is to increase efforts to strengthen parental involvement in local and state legislation and policies that affect our children. 

(4).  Health and Nutrition:  Action will be taken to encourage changes and improvements to nutrition and overall wellness.  A priority that will be targeted in this area is the overall improvement of nutrition and wellness initiatives in the schools based on current science and health trends and research. 

(5).  Juvenile Justice:  Efforts will be made to improve and reform the current juvenile justice system by promoting positive child and youth development and  advocating for equity regardless of race, culture, language, gender, and sexual orientation.  An example of an objective in this area is an increase in juvenile delinquency prevention programs.

 On a fun note, Educator Appreciation Day at Zoo Atlanta is August 29, 2015.  Educators are admitted FREE  with proper identification and their guests receive $2.00 off admission.  Active Georgia PTA members are included.  Please check the Georgia PTA website for specific details!  


PREVIOUS INFORMATION


The Georgia General Assembly is hard at work!  A few relevant pieces of information are provided below, but I encourage you to visit the Georgia PTA website for detailed information regarding the legislation being introduced during this session of the General Assembly.  Also, I hope that you will join us for the Catalyst Luncheon to hear from Mr. Barr and ask any questions that you may have. It is the perfect time to have him join us and he will certainly have a great deal of relevant information to share with us. Also, please contact your legislators regarding issues of concern to you. These are State Senate – Curt Thompson and State House – Scott Holcomb.   


(1). Governor Deal named individuals who will serve on the Education Reform Commission during his State of the State address.  The commission will study the Georgia’s education system, including its funding formula, and will provide recommendations to improve the system, increase access to early learning programs, recruit and retain high-quality instructors and expand school options for Georgia's families. Governor Deal also suggested a constitutional amendment that would create Opportunity School Districts, which have been used successfully in New Orleans, for the purpose of providing authorization to the State to step in to help rejuvenate failing public schools. He also announced that this year's budget, coupled with his proposal for next year's budget, represents an infusion of over one billion additional dollars for K-12 education. The House passed the $20.9 billion FY 15 supplemental budget which includes $276 million in additional revenues, and the amended budget now goes to the Senate for consideration. 


 (2). Governor Deal established the Education Reform Commission to present recommendations in August of 2015 regarding ways to increase access to early learning, recruiting and retaining high quality teachers, and expanding school options for families. 


 (3) Several pieces of House and Senate legislation are as follows:  HB-91 addressing the elimination of the Georgia High School Graduation Test and proposing that former students who did not pass one or more portions of the test to petition to obtain a high school diploma; HB-131 addressing cyberbullying; HB-138 addressing social media and privacy rights; SB-60 raising the mandatory education age from 16 to 17 ½; HB-186 addressing changes to provisions relating to carrying weapons within school safety zones and at school functions; SB 89 requiring instructional materials and content to be in digital or electronic format after a certain date and requiring local boards of education to provide wireless electronic devices for students to access instructional materials; and HB-65 requiring local boards of education and certain charter schools to hold at least 2 public meetings on the proposed annual operating budget; HB-43 providing that both parents are entitled to pick up and drop off their children from school unless a court order has terminated such right.    


PREVIOUS INFORMATION


Norcross High School is located in District 3, and our Board of Education representative is Dr. Mary K. Murphy.  This seat is not up for election on November 4, 2014.   There are two seats on the Gwinnett County Board of Education up for general election.  District 2 incumbent Dan Seckinger defeated several Republican challengers in the primary.  He is running unopposed in the general election due to the fact that there is no Democratic challenger.  District 4 Republican incumbent Bob McClure and Democratic challenger Zachary Rushing are in a contested race for the District 4 seat.

There are TWO very important races that could have a tremendous impact on education in Georgia, and these are the gubernatorial race and state school superintendent race.  As you likely know,  the Republican candidate for governor is incumbent Governor Nathan Deal, who is seeking a second term.  The Democratic candidate for governor is Jason Carter, who is former President Jimmy Carter’s grandson.  He is an attorney and State Senator.  The future of education in Georgia is a  significant issue for both candidates, and you are encouraged to read and become informed about the opinions, ideas, and positions of both candidates prior to the general election.  The candidates for state school superintendent are Valerie Wilson and Richard Woods.  The Democratic candidate is Valerie Wilson, and she is a Decatur resident and has served on the Decatur City School Board of Education.  The Republican candidate is Richard Woods, and he is a Tifton resident and has served as a teacher in administrator in the Irwin County School System.   Please access the Georgia PTA website and/or the website for Georgia Partnership For Excellence in Education to watch videos of debates  between the candidates and for additional information regarding the candidates and issues involving education.   Also, please note that The Georgia Partnership For Excellence in Education will feature a debate between the school superintendent candidates as a part of its ongoing Critical Issues Forum on August 19, 2014.

 As you research the candidates and their positions on various issues, some of the primary issues involving education are highlighted below for your consideration:

(1).  FUNDING/MONEY:  This issue is always on the forefront of the minds of voter.  The appropriate funding to implement programs, hire/retain teachers, and build schools is vital to the success of Georgia schools.  Generally, candidates support the increase of funding for education, but this is an issue that voters should carefully consider and time to review the specific ideas and platforms set forth by the candidates.

(2).  NCLB: Under the "No Child Left Behind" law signed in 2002, children attending public schools who have not made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for 2 or more years have the option of moving to a higher performing public school.  This is a very general description of a much more involved bipartisan law intended to improve our schools by requiring states to establish academic standards and testing systems that meet federal mandates.


Over the years, the debate regarding this law has centered around allegations of inadequate funding and the creation of undue pressure by its opponents, with its supporters arguing that the law holds schools accountable for maintaining academic standards.  Nevertheless, Georgia is currently operating under a waiver from the NCLB law granted by the Obama administration.  Georgia and the 9 other states granted waivers are allowed the flexibility to implement its own programs and comprehensive plans geared toward raising academic standards, improving accountability, and addressing teacher effectiveness/development.


(3).  STEM:  This refers to science, technology, engineering, and math. These ware the areas of education felt to most lacking in the United States. In Georgia, this is taught on an integrated basis with programs driven by problem solving, discovery, student-centered development of ideas, etc.  as opposed to the individual fields/subjects being taught separately and in the traditional manner.  The candidates are generally supportive of funding of STEM education.


(4).  COMMON CORE:  The Common Core State Standards Initiative sets out what students should know with respect to math and language arts at each grade level.  One of the primary issues of this initiative involves whether the power of the individual states to set standards should be overridden by the national government.


(5).  TEACHER PAY:  This is an ongoing issue and is often debated in conjunction with teacher testing and accountability concerns. At present, there are no national testing standards, and individual states certify teachers based on requirements set by the applicable state.   Overall, the candidates generally recognize the importance of this issue and the necessity of recognizing the value of teachers via their salaries.


(6).  CHARTER SCHOOLS:  These schools are publicly funded and controlled but are operated privately.  The debate regarding charter schools usually centers around the flexibility they are given in terms of state and local rules.  Charter schools are governed by a non-profit board and provide non-traditional programs and options to students.  Again, these schools are the subject of controversy, and otters should research this issue when selecting a candidate in support of their beliefs.


(7).  VOUCHERS:  A voucher allows families to pay for some of their child's private school education with public funds.  Supporters of the voucher laws argue that vouchers provide families with an alternative when certain public schools fail and that this system actually improves public education due to the competition created.  Those who oppose the voucher program(s) often argue that they lack the necessary financial oversight applied to the public school system and they take away vital resources from public schools.


Georgia has 2 voucher programs.  One is for special needs students and the other is a tax credit program.

    

Legislator Contact Information: Go to Capitol Watch at www.georgiapta.org

Your Legislators:

State Senate - David Shafer (R-48)
State House -
Hugh Floyd (D-099)I