Those who follow the Legislature know that Wednesday was crossover day when bills must pass either the House or Senate to be considered this session. (In reality, bills can stall but still revive in the form of amendments to other bills that did make it through one of the two chambers.)
There was an interesting mix of bills dealing with education. By the way, it is hard to accept the specious argument that the state Supreme Court ruling on charter schools last May put in doubt the ability of the state to regulate public education when you see the sheer volume and the intrusiveness of bills related to schools and school operations coming out of the Legislature this year.
State Sen. Chip Rogers of Cherokee failed to advance Senate Bill 87, his broader voucher bill, but he keeps trying each year. Here is a good AJC story by new education reporter Wayne Washington on the push for greater school choice.
Another bill that did not move was SB 364, which would bar schools from using standards-based report cards in grades 4-12. My system adopted the standards-based report card as part of its International Baccalaureate program. I agree that the report cards are an adjustment, and my system has had several sessions to explain the detailed numeric “grades” to wary parents. And some systems in Georgia have backed away from standards-report cards because of parent discomfort with the detailed numeric assessments that gauge students’ progress on multiple measures and skills within each subject area. But I am surprised that the General Assembly would even consider getting into this issue, which seems best addressed by parents and local school systems.
The Georgia School Boards Association, which does a great job of monitoring the Legislature in its daily reports, offered this list of bills that stalled:
Some bills that passed out of Committee but never made it to a calendar include:
• HB 109, prohibiting public employees from using government-owned devices to promote or oppose legislation
• HB 705, amending the definition of direct classroom expenditure for the 65% rule
• HB 821, requiring a family who moved to enroll a child within a certain time period
• HB 836, creating a High School Athletics Overview Committee
• SB 49, raising the mandatory age of attendance to 16 1/2
• SB 452, amending the requirements for local board hearings before the State Board due to accreditation issues
•SB 457, making elections partisan
• SR 480, urging school districts to put healthy options in vending machines
• SR 999, urging the State Board of Education to develop a course on teen dating violence
Two charter school bills cleared the House, including House Bill 651, which repeals the additional funding that the state was giving systems that won charter status. A handful of small districts became “charter” systems, which had them to a slight funding boost. Apparently, the state can’t afford the boost, especially with a large system like Fulton seeking charter status.
HB 651 passed with an amendment to grandfather in current charter systems. Those systems would continue to receive the funding until the end of the charter contract that they signed with the state. The bill strikes language that said: In addition to the amounts earned by a charter system pursuant… a charter system shall earn 3.785 percent of the base amount established pursuant to subsection (a) of Code Section 20-2-161 for each full-time equivalent student in each school within the charter system.
The other charter school bill that passed the House was House Bill 797, the enabling legislation for the charter school constitutional amendment, which has yet to pass the Senate.
HB 797 re-establishes the defunct charter school commission and spells out funding for state approved charter schools. The bill, as passed, never really had a public airing, despite assertions to the contrary by House leaders.
As one public school advocate told me when I asked if the House Education Committee ever discussed the bill: “Discussed by the education committee” would be a description of what happened only by someone delusional. In fact, this hastily-called meeting of the Ed Committee occurred at the last minute after the House had debated the abortion bill, and no one was in much of a mood to even have a meeting, let alone discuss anything. At the meeting, Rep. Jones walked in with copies of the latest version of HB 797 in hand, distributed them to committee members only, and proceeded to highlight “changes” that she had made after receiving “input” from committee members since the last time she “discussed” this legislation. Although there were a couple of questions from the committee members, there was no opportunity for public comment (though I don’t know what we would have commented on, as we were not permitted to see a copy of the bill until after the adjournment of the meeting, and we only got copies then from friendly legislators who were dismayed at the way they treated us.)
Members of the House were told by Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones that there were two hearings on the bill; one eight days before the other — allowing a much longer period for comment than usual. House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman later assured them that it was heard three times in full Committee and treated as any other bill in full Committee. What neither of them mentioned was that a different version was brought to Committee members in each of those meetings, and no testimony was ever taken.
When questioned about why there were no limitations or safeguards included regarding management fees, the sponsor said more local charters used management companies than state charters. Her research showed that management fees are usually 8% – 14% of the revenue, but Atlanta Public Schools charges $3,000 per student, 22%, for central office services. The high management fee reported for Atlanta Heights, a state charter, has been brought up frequently. Rep. Jones said the school did not pay the fee and the company donated $500,000 to help them make it through the first year. The vote was largely along party lines, but five Republicans voted against it and four did not vote. It now moves to the Senate.
In response to the Georgia School Boards Association summation of state Rep. Jan Jones’ comments on APS, I just received this note:
Maureen-I don’t know where Jan Jones gets her information, but she needs a fact-checker. Atlanta Public Schools does not, as she claims “charge $3,000 per student, 22 percent, for central office services.” The district retains 2 percent of the gross revenue from a number (not all) of its charter schools for services provided to those schools, including Professional Development, provision and coordination of ITBS testing, Title I, Special Education and other support. This is 1/3 less than the 3 percent retention allowed by state law and works out to between $180 and $200 per student. Before the Charter Commission was found to be unconstitutional, it retained 3 percent from its schools (2 percent in Year 2) in order to fund its office. Please set the record straight.
Director of Charter Schools
Atlanta Public Schools
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog