|State Charter School Controversy Sparks
Exchange in Senate Ed
The Senate Education and Youth Committee met this afternoon and heard the following legislation:
HB 853, sponsored by Rep. Katie Dempsey (R-Rome), seeks to allow student funding to follow children enrolled in public schools who have been placed in a licensed psychiatric treatment facility. Members of the committee, including Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta), expressed concern about the funding mechanism of the bill and held it for more work.
HB 787, by Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) would allow schools authorized by the State Charter Commission to join their local Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESAs). The legislation also adjusts the funding formula for state charter schools, sending more than $17 million more annually to the schools. During this afternoon’s meeting, there was a testy back-and-forth between the sponsor of the legislation and members of the committee. One such exchange occurred between committee member Sen. Freddie Simms (D-Dawson) who questioned Hilton’s comments regarding potential charter school operators who are reluctant to open more state charter schools due to low funding. Sims, who noted that state charter school Pataula Academy is located in her district, said that charter school policy should be about serving students, not attracting new charter school operators to Georgia. In another exchange, Tippins asked State Charter School Commission General Counsel Gregg Stevens about the appropriate level of funding for Georgia schools. Tippins said that Jeff Davis County is the lowest-funded school district in the state at a per pupil funding amount of $6,952 annually — a significantly lower funding rate than the current funding rate for state charter schools. Tippins shared troubling financial data: 577,000 students in 48 school districts earn less in funding than what the average state charter school student earns under the current charter funding mechanism. If HB 787 passes with its proposed funding mechanism, 1.12 million traditional public school students in 90 Georgia school districts will receive less funding than state charter school students.
About a dozen speakers testified in favor of and against the bill. PAGE urged the committee to wait on increasing funding for state charter schools until a comprehensive school funding study is conducted and the ongoing $167 million austerity cut to QBE is eliminated. The committee did not vote on the legislation.
HB 763, sponsored by Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) seeks to expand the scope of student attendance protocol committees and reframes them as school climate committees. The committee is tasked with reviewing policies related to school climate and making recommendations that will help promote positive gains in student achievement, student and teacher morale, community support, and student and teacher attendance. The recommendations are intended to decrease suspensions, expulsions, dropouts and other negative effects on school climate. At the conclusion of the presentation on the underlying bill, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s General Counsel & Director of Policy Irene Munn, presented an amendment enhancing comprehensive school safety plans. Munn referenced bond dollars recently added to the state budget enhancing school safety and explained that GaDOE will review local school district requests for safety improvements. The amendment also makes clear that school safety plans are not subject to open records laws. The bill passed with the amendment attached and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee.
HB 759 by Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) seeks to change eligibility for Georgia’s special needs private school voucher. The bill would allow students who have established eligibility for the voucher with an IEP in a public school to change enrollments at more than one private school without re-establishing eligibility by returning to a public school. This bill intends to address situations where one private school doesn’t accept the voucher and the student moves to a different private school that does. Ultimately, the committee passed a substitute bill which would enable a student eligible for the voucher to exit the public school system only one additional time after any initial exit. That second exit must occur within 18 months of the initial departure in order for the student to remain eligible for the special needs voucher.