The Education Committee will be the busiest it has been in 22 years. I’ll take some of these bills in turn.
House Bill 62 would allow children of active duty military personnel to receive special needs scholarships. Because military families constantly relocate across the country, and these families are not in Georgia for the prescribed length of time, these children are currently denied certain educational opportunities.
House Bill 65 will increase transparency in local School Boards by requiring them to hold at least two public meetings before adopting a budget. This would give parents and taxpayers the opportunity to see how their education dollars are being put to work. This bill nearly passed last year but ran out of time in the Senate.
Senate Bill 2 would allow high school students to enroll in college courses upon completion of their sophomore year coursework. Under this bill, students can earn their high school diplomas and start their postsecondary degrees simultaneously. In this new era of dual and cyber enrollment, we’re constantly looking for innovative ways to increase access to post-secondary education.
House Bill 91 would allow students who didn’t pass the old High School Graduation Test in previous years to get their diploma now. These tests are no longer required and has been improved by a much-improved graduation standard. The science test (in particular) was very difficult, precluding seniors (now adults) from ever getting their diplomas. They were thus precluded from military service, getting a higher-paying job, and any hope of a post-secondary degree.
A huge potential change is House Bill 100, which would delay the cutoff date for kids to enter kindergarten. Some in the DOE say that kids would do better if they started at an older age. On the other hand, this puts a huge burden on families whose children would be delayed by a year. Additionally, there are also studies that show children should be in school at an earlier age. If the bill passes, there will almost certainly be a grandfather clause for children who would enter kindergarten this year.
There was big news on the Savanah Port, as the White House requested that Congress designate $42 million for dredging the river channel that cargo ships use to reach the Port of Savannah. This funding, in addition to the $266 million from Georgia, will help the expansion stay on schedule to be completed by 2020.
A sour note is the potential blow to our school bus drivers’ insurance in the next budget. In order to save $103 million, it has been suggested we follow corporate America and eliminate this benefit to these part-time workers. The problem is, this insurance is the sole reason that many bus drivers drive school busses in the first place. There is a safety issue here: we want our neighbors who know these families to drive our children. They are not likely to do so on near-minimum wage without this benefit. I’ve argued with Leadership to keep this insurance in place, and there is movement to save it for this year. But I’m being told that in the future, constantly rising costs will probably preclude it.
I attended the committee meeting on the cannabis oil for medical purposes. I feel confident the stripped-down version of this bill will pass. Whether or not a legal way to obtain the oil is figured out is problematic, but I know Representative Peake is diligently working on it.
I enjoyed visiting with Morgan Whitsett and Amy Campbell regarding dental health issues. Charlene Bray and Amelia Barrett of Social Circle also visited the Capitol about the very serious issue of sex trafficking. I also had a very important meeting with State Superintendent Richard Woods in my office. We are working on a way to soften the blow of the new and very unpopular teacher evaluation system (TKES and LKES). My intent is to make it easier for teachers to teach.
I hope you will contact me with constructive comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Belton is the newly elected District 112 Georgia Representative. The Morgan and Newton County representative is serving in his first term in Georgia’s House. He is a resident of Morgan County.