A proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the state government to set up charter schools at the local level and require local school boards to provide funding for those schools failed to receive the required two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
HR 1162 fell 10 votes short of the 120 votes needed for the legislation to move on to the Senate for consideration. Sponsors of the resolution have indicated they will seek to have it reconsidered in the House later this session. The legislation was written in response to a recent decision by Supreme Court of Georgia to strike down the use of "special schools" as a method of authorizing state charter schools.
While I support taking steps for the limited purpose of authorizing charter schools, I voted against HR 1162 because of its potential for diverting local tax dollars from existing public schools toward any type of "special school" the state creates or designates. Local funding decisions should be made by the elected school board members in those communities rather than being usurped by the state government, which has already cut more than $1 billion from local school funding in recent years.
A better alternative is HR 1335, which would protect charter schools without expanding the size of government or limiting local control, thus preserving the right of local citizens to have a say in the education of their children and the spending of their tax dollars.
Agency Consolidation: The House voted to approve HB 642, which would abolish the State Properties Commission and the State Personnel Administration and transfer their functions to a newly created Georgia Services Administration, which would also replace the Department of Administrative services. The action is part of Gov. Nathan Deal's plan to consolidate several state agencies to save money. Under the bill, the Georgia Aviation Authority, the State Accounting Office, the Office of Treasury and Fiscal Services, the Georgia Building Authority, the Office of State Administrative Hearings and the Georgia Technology Authority would be administratively assigned to the Georgia Services Administration. A related proposal, HB 805, which would revise state law to account for the retirement of employees associated with the State Personnel Administration, was also approved and sent to the Senate for its consideration, along with HB 642.
HOPE Scholarship Proposals: The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) has unveiled a legislative package designed to remove the disparity of those who pay into the HOPE Scholarship, HOPE Grant and Zell Miller Scholarship programs and those who receive those educational grants. Recent reports and findings show that low income and minority populations disproportionately provide the resources that generate the HOPE scholarships and grant programs, while those of greater means are the grant recipients. GLBC is offering four bills aimed at collecting better demographic information, such as race and gender, add income cap for HOPE grantees, change the GPA requirements for HOPE scholars attending private and public schools, and realign how HOPE scholarships and grants are distributed throughout the state. Each measure helps to ensure that HOPE and Zell Miller scholarships and grants provide opportunities for students around the state, not just those in metro-Atlanta suburban areas. Lottery proceeds used for HOPE grants would be apportioned to regions based on the amount of lottery funds that come from those regions. Lottery tickets sold in one region will only go towards HOPE scholarships and grants to students who are residents of those areas.
Budget Public Hearing: House Democrats held a public hearing on Feb. 6 to discuss Gov. Deal's proposed state budget. Alan Essig, executive director of Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, presented an analysis of the proposed budget. "For the first time in several years, there are no dramatic cuts in the governor's budget recommendations," said Essig. "However, even with moderate revenue growth, Georgia faces a structural deficit. In fact, Gov. Deal projects a $319 million deficit in FY 2014. Without significant improvement in the economy or tax reform that results in increased revenues, Georgia will continue to struggle to provide services to Georgians most affected by the recession." Essig also discussed the critical needs Georgia must exert to further economic security for its families and residents. "Where Georgia lags competitively is not taxes, Georgia has among the lowest taxes in the nation, Georgia needs a well-trained and educated workforce, a transportation system that allows goods to get to market and ensures employees a hassle-free commute, and quality hospitals and medical clinics," he said. "For Georgia to regain its position as an economic leader, additional investments in education, transportation, and quality of life must be a priority."
Presidential Ballot: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp has ruled that President Barack Obama's name will remain on the Democratic ballot for the state's presidential preference primary on March 6. The secretary of state rejected complaints filed by a group of "birthers" who contend that the president is not a natural-born American citizen and thus ineligible to run for president. An administrative law judge held a Jan. 26 hearing on the matter and later recommended that the president's name be listed on the Georgia ballot.
Session Schedule: The General Assembly is in recess until Wednesday, Feb. 15, which will be the 19th legislative day of this year's session. Please continue to contact me with your views on the issues or whenever I can be of service.
Williams, D-Midway, represents District 165 in the Georgia House. Contact him at 511 Coverdell Legislative Office Building, Atlanta, GA 30334; by phone at 404-656-6372; or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.