Post Session Recap #4
Since April 23, 1866, Georgia has set aside the 4th Monday in April to commemorate Confederate Memorial Day. This state holiday recognizes the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the War Between the States fighting to preserve the values held dearly by southerners of the time. While the records of casualties are certainly challengeable, it is estimated that approximately 260,000 Confederate soldiers lost their lives in battle or as a result of battle. It is interesting to note that while the Union army was easily over twice the size of the Confederate army, the Union army lost approximately 100,000 more soldiers than the Confederate army; this striking statistic reveals the incredible strength and determination of the Confederate army. I hope that you will take time this week to pause and remember their sacrifice.
Last Thursday, April 19, Governor Deal signed into law HB 386, the comprehensive tax reform bill we worked on for almost 2 years. This pro-jobs, pro-family bill gives Georgians a $260 million tax break over the next three years. In a few weeks, I will do a comprehensive review of the measures included in that bill to inform you of the positive changes you will soon see.
In addition to tax reform, 21st century education reform was also one of our legislative priorities this session. The passage of the charter schools amendment, HR 1162, gives Georgians the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval in November. HR 1162 reasserts the state’s role in public education, defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, and provides that a state charter school may only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit. It also makes clear that the state is not allowed to lower funding to the local school systems. HB 797, a companion bill to HR 1162, creates the State Charter Schools Commission as a state-level authorizing entity with the power to approve or deny petitions for state charter schools. This important measure will expand educational choices for our students and families as well as provide students with opportunities to specialize in a variety of academic subjects.
This year we also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. Technology is a crucial tool within our society; therefore it is imperative to find new and innovative ways to educate our students using technology such as the Internet. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer students virtual instruction program options to enable students to use online and distance learning in the nontraditional classroom. Students entering high school in 2014 will be required to complete at least one of these online learning courses. Another important technological advancement is HB 175, which would establish the “Online Clearinghouse Act” and create a system to allow local school systems and charter schools the ability to share their computer-based courses with students in other districts and charter schools. By continuing to craft legislation that puts our education program in line with technology, we are laying the foundation for our students to become successful in the future and competitive in the global job market.
With our parents and students in mind, we carefully crafted a bill that will hold schools accountable for poor performance and reward those with positive achievements. SB 410, signed by Governor Deal last week, adopts indicators of quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate for individual schools and school systems. SB 410 will provide a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress. This bill will move us toward a multi-tiered system, which will offer our schools enhanced accountability and provide true bench marks to track progress. The new criteria will provide a clearer and easier way of understanding how a school is performing and will also provide parents with the information and access to choose a quality school best suited for their child.
In effect, SB 410 replaces the current AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) system with a system that provides a more accurate measure of a school’s performance. The current AYP system provides a “pass” or “fail” grade, which makes it difficult to track progress and incentivize improvements. Moreover, transparency about performance will incentivize schools and districts to continue to improve. This will provide new ways to reward schools that continue to make progress. This bill will become effective July 1, 2012. I am very thankful for Governor Deal’s support in signing this important bill into law and the diligence of those who worked on SB 410 throughout the session.
The legislature also took steps to support our valuable educators. Educators are truly the heroes on the front line, training our youth to become the future leaders of our state. Realizing the vital role educators play in the lives of our children, the Senate passed a handful of bills to protect Georgia’s educators. SB 184 will prohibit local school boards from implementing a policy that allows length of teaching time to be a main factor when reducing staff so as not to lose a high quality educator solely based on length of time in the classroom. Another bill we passed is SB 153, which requires that written documentation be provided to teachers, administrators, and contract employees who have been terminated or suspended only for financial reasons, specifying such as the reason for their termination or suspension. It is truly an unfortunate circumstance when an educator must be terminated or suspended due to no fault of their own. With this law, we are doing everything in our power to help clear the path for future employment.
Each week, I write this newsletter as a way to keep you informed about the status of our state and the many ways we are working to increase the quality of life for each and every Georgian. If there are any issues that are of special importance to you that you would like me to touch on, please feel free to contact me with your questions or concerns. I am honored to serve you and will always try to make decisions with your best interest at heart.