“Picking Winners and Losers,” the Phrase of the Week by James Salzer. Video by Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Lawmakers and Georgia schools: money, testing, speeding, recess and sex abuse

Educating children is among the top obligations of the state and consumes about a third of the tax revenue, so with Georgia’s 2018 legislative session entering its fourth quarter, what has been accomplished and what could happen before the clock runs out?

Monday is Day 30 in a 40-day legislative session. Day 28 — “Crossover Day” — ended on Wednesday for the state Senate and around 1 a.m. Thursday in the House.

As of that day, when bills must cross from one chamber to the other to remain in play, a handful of important education bills were still alive while one high-profile piece of legislation was killed outright.

House Bill 482 would have created state-funded accounts for more than 4,000 students. Their parents could have redirected the money to private school tuition, tutoring or other services if they chose not to enroll in public school. There were some caveats: students would only be eligible if they’d attended public school at least a year — unless they had a documented disability, had been bullied or adopted from foster care, were low-income or were from a military family new to Georgia.

The vote against this last bill on the House agenda came after a long Crossover Day. It was preceded with opposition speeches by several lawmakers from both parties, including the Republican chairman of the House Education committee, who called it a “voucher” program that would divert money from public schools. The vote was a decisive 60-102.

Here are six bills that passed on or before Crossover Day:

  1. House Bill 787 would increase funding for charter schools operating under the authority of the State Charter Schools Commission. The bill by Rep. Scott Hilton, R-Peachtree Corners, would cost about $17 million a year, according to a state analysis. The vote in the House was 111-54.
  2. House Bill 217 would increase the annual $58 million cap on the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which allows taxpayers to reduce their tax bill by the amount they contribute to a private school scholarship program. It passed both chambers last year, but the House and Senate couldn’t agree on how much to raise the cap. It remains in play because this is the second year of a two-year session. A conference committee is attempting to reconcile the differences.
  3. Senate Bill 362 would offer an alternative to the standardized state tests that so many people love to hate. Leaders including Gov. Nathan Deal insist that tests are necessary to hold schools accountable, but Congress has relaxed the mandate, allowing states to experiment. The bill would establish a pilot program so that school districts could try out their own alternatives to the Georgia Milestones. It passed the Senate 52-0.
  4. House Bill 605 is not technically an education bill, but it could affect private schools, day care centers and other entities that take care of children. It extends the statute of limitations for lawsuits by adults who come forward later in life with claims that they were sexually abused as children. The current age limit is 23. The House voted 170-0 to pass it.
  5. House Bill 978 is another bill that is not, strictly speaking, about education but that still attaches to schools, or at least to the people who drive near them. It would establish, for the first time, the use of automated cameras to enforce speed limits in school zones, with fines for violators. It passed the House by a vote of 94-76.
  6. House Bill 273 sounds like a big win for children who like to play but a big loophole would let schools wiggle out of its mandate to schedule daily recess. It was popular with adults, passing the Senate by a vote of 50-0 after passing the House by an overwhelming margin last year. It returns to the House for final approval of amendments by the Senate.

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The AJC's Ty Tagami keeps you updated on the latest happenings in K-12 education issues affecting Georgia. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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