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For detailed information on these bills, use the Legislation Tracker tool on our website.

SB 152:  Daycare centers run by church ministries, non-profit religious schools or religious charities to be exempt from licensing.  Status:  In Senate Education and Youth Committee. Bill held at the request of Committee Chairman for further refinement before the 2012 Session.

SB 68:  Permitting parents to petition to turn around low-achieving schools.  Status:  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

SB 87:  Students from military families and foster care to be eligible for Special Needs Scholarships (Vouchers).  Status:  tabled in the Senate.  Could be removed from the table if the proponents could raise enough support for the measure.

HB 326: Lays out parameters for post-secondary education funding from Georgia Lottery revenues and state sponsored loans.  There is no GA Pre-K language in that bill.  Status:  Signed into law by Governor Deal on 3/15.

SB 185: The bill now authorizes the Department to issue an order providing notice of intended emergency closure of an early care and education program under two circumstances – 1.  death of a child (where death was not medically anticipated or no serious rule violations related to the death occurred by program) and 2. where a child’s safety or welfare is in imminent danger.  Upon request for hearing by the program, the Office of State Administrative Hearings (OSAH) would hold a hearing within 48 hours to determine if the closure is warranted.  If OSAH agrees, the program would be closed for a period of 21 days.  Status:  Passed the Senate and House.  The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

HB 325:  The bill alters the previously established private school vouchers law where the vouchers given by School Scholarship Organizations (where the donors are eligible for an significant income tax credit) will now adjust the $50 million tax credit cap to the inflation rate of the Consumer Price Index.  Previously, there was simply a $50 M cap. The new legislation also limits the amount an organization can give to the average of the state and local funding per pupil as determined by the Department of Education and allows funding to go to private Pre-Ks, which, to date, have been excluded.

SB 291:  The bill, put in the Hopper on the last day of the Session would move Pre-K funding to the General Fund, would be appropriated by the General Assembly and prioritized by the Department of Education.   It would lock in 2013 levels (which have not yet been decided) and allow change only as determined by the state Board of Education.  The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HB 81:  Would require fiscal notes for bills with significant impact on school system revenues.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Withdrawn in the House and recommitted.

HB 181:  Would allow the State Board of Education to waive prior year in Georgia school as requirement for special needs scholarship.  Status: Passed the House on Monday (3/14).  Currently in the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

HR 495:  Would create the Joint Higher Education Finance Study Committee to Evaluate Higher Education Funding Formula.  Status:  Given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Education Committee.  Withdrawn in the House and recommitted.

HB 314:  This bill guarantees that foster care students are granted excused absences from school to attend court proceedings relating to the students’ foster care.  Status:  Passed House and Senate.

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Pre-K Day at the Capitol draws a crowd! Left to right: Robin Ferst, president and founder of the Ferst Foundation; Bobby Cagle, DECAL commissioner; Pat Willis, Voices executive director; and teachers, parents and children from local Pre-K centers. A big thank you to all of our supporters. More pictures available on Flickr (feed below on blog) !

Since lottery programs were launched in 1993, HOPE was given wings; Georgia Pre-K was kept in a straight jacket.  What should we expect for the future?  Better yet, what should we demand? 

After 1993, the legislature expanded the HOPE program almost every year to cover more audiences and higher tuitions.  The original target was new high school grads, then they added all graduates before 1993, a second chance for those whose grades fell below the required “B,” unlimited HOPE grants at the tech schools, special military scholarships, and home-schooled students.  Private college scholarships were quadrupled, and the Board of Regents raised tuition regularly, assured it would be covered by HOPE.  When lottery revenues were forecast to flatten out, the legislature tinkered with the definition of high school GPAs and course requirements and limited total college credit hours to try to control spending. 

Pre-K, on the other hand, was immobilized almost from the start.  Our “universal” program actually limited the number of kids to be served.  As many as 10,000 4-year-olds have waited for an opening.  Qualified providers requested 13,070 additional slots in 2010; 11,000 were denied.  Even more egregious, while tuition went up in colleges, we ignored the parallel increase in costs of Pre-K.  “Tuition,” the per child reimbursement for Pre-K, has been essentially flat for 15 years!  We required higher credentials for Pre-K teachers but we didn’t pay for them.  Another audience in great need, much like those pre-1993 high school grads, were 3-year-olds, especially disadvantaged children.  The legislature has ignored them.  

Neither unfettered funding for HOPE nor constricted funding for Pre-K will yield the results Georgia needs for education and economic success.  Please, Governor Deal, limit the changes to lottery programs this year.  We need an open discussion and a clear vision, informed by solid research and Georgia’s identifiable needs.   We don’t need the pressure and politics of the legislative session to drive these decisions.

Good afternoon on this lovely Saturday in January! I’m Jessica, Voices’ new communications manager. I just wanted to introduce myself and share a childhood memory that complements Polly’s latest post. From time to time, the Voices staff and our supporters will share memories and lessons from childhood on the Voices Today blog. These posts may stir up childhood memories of your own (please share!) and give us all the opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have influenced our lives.

Whenever I eat fresh parsley I’m immediately transported back in time to my nanny and grandpa’s mint green kitchen. They were old-fashioned folks who grew much of their own produce in their suburban backyard. They spent hours in the garden and hours in the kitchen. They rarely cooked anything from a box.

I remember picking parsley with my grandpa and can still taste the delicious cauliflower cakes, cucumber salad and lima beans my grandma served on their formica table. Because of these positive food experiences, I have an appreciation for fresh food. I also recognize the challenge of eating healthy in our modern society. If I wrestle with purchasing a three-dollar red pepper, it’s completely understandable why someone at or below the poverty level would pass.

With 57 percent of Georgia’s children eligible for free and reduced school lunches, it’s important that we advocate for fresh foods in schools that will help them develop positive food habits to reflect on and carry into adulthood. To some children, the school cafeteria is their grandparents’ garden…

As referenced in the previous post, members of the U.S. House of Representatives returned to the Hill yesterday for a Lame Duck session which will last for the next few weeks before Congress recesses for the holiday break. Among the legislative issues we expect to see addressed is Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which has been featured in this blog for the past few months.

Back in August, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307), and we now hope for the House to do the same.  Passage of the bill would address issues of child hunger and childhood obesity by continuing to fund the all-important school meal programs and also by improving nutritional standards for foods sold on school campuses and strengthening Local School Wellness Policies.  For more information, please read Voices’ policy brief.

The Lame Duck session is short, and the timing of bills moving through likely will be fast.  For these reasons, yesterday and today are designated national call-in days to members of the U.S. House to urge passage of the Senate Bill. 

Join advocates around the country and call 1-866-277-7617, ask to speak with your House member, and then urge him to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

A new Congress comes in January but the current Congress has work to do.  Our children are waiting for us to meet our commitments to them.  All they are asking for is a healthy meal, a nurturing environment, and a solid education.  Surely we can deliver!

Let’s start with a healthy meal.  Our current Congressmen have returned to Washington this week with lots on their plate (pun intended!).  Beyond the important economic issues that dominate the airwaves is the equally important issue of reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act.  Almost 1.3 million Georgia Children depend on this for school lunches and other meals.  Your Congressman in the U.S. House needs to hear from you about getting this done by December 31.

Kids also need quality care while Mom and Dad work and early education programs to help them get ready to read.  The federal appropriations bill can ensure that 300,000 little ones get the continuing benefit of Head Start, the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and Early Learning Challenge Grants.  Add this to your talking points with your Congressmen.

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

There is a lot of news in education these days…

Last Tuesday applications for round two of the federal government’s Race To The Top (RT3) program were due. Georgia plus 34 other states and the District of Columbia applied. If selected as a RT3 winner, Georgia could receive over $400 million.

  • To view Georgia’s application click here. (warning – it’s over 200 pages)

The following day, leaders from the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers descended on Georgia (specifically on Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee) for the release of the Common Core State Standards.

  • For an excellent overview of the issues surrounding the CCSS click here to read the brief from Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (don’t worry – this one really is an overview – only 4 pages).

Both of these endeavors have many vocal supporters as well as many vocal detractors. Both contain many elements we want to see for all our children – a focus on excellence, equality and success. At Voices we want to raise the bar for all children so that every child truly has a chance to succeed first in school and later in life. The concern is that equal isn’t always fair. It’s too simplistic to think that if we give all children exactly the same support, they will all excel in exactly the same way.

The reality is that some children are more vulnerable than others. Think about the impact on learning when a child regularly comes to school hungry, spends their day worrying about where they’ll sleep at night or if dad has gone back to jail. What about when the child fears being beaten when they get home, worries about mom using drugs again or about the gunshots they’ll hear just outside their front door? What is the impact when the peers that surround a child discourage her from doing her homework or him from even going to school?

For all children to achieve, we have to accept that some will need more support than others. During this time of fiscal crisis, it is more important than ever to examine our public spending and target it to the places where it is most needed and can make the most difference. Our vulnerable youth need our support and they will pay us back by succeeding, by joining the ranks of the gainfully employed and civically minded. Yes – let’s continue to improve conditions for all of Georgia’s children but let’s also remember that our most vulnerable youth may need need some extra attention. If Georgia is awarded RT3 dollars or adopts the CCSS or really as we go forward with any major education reform, there has to be special attention paid to vulnerable children if we are going to give them all a chance at success.

Kudos to the Division of Family and Children Services for committing resources to the education of children in foster care!

An article in today’s AJC announces DFCS’s plans to use federal stimulus dollars to hire 150 certified teachers to tutor the 3,000 Georgia foster children who are falling behind in school. According to the article foster children in Fulton and DeKalb counties fail the 3rd grade math CRCT at twice the rate and the 8th grade math CRCT at triple the rate of their non-foster care peers.

Children in foster care have experienced trauma and upheaval in their lives that make them vulnerable to many poor outcomes. It is essential that we target resources to help them succeed and this program appears to be a solid commitment to doing just that.

DFCS and the GA Dept of Education have been working together for a while now to share data and to examine ways they can partner to improve student success. Voices commends the efforts of DFCS to share the responsibility for educating these children and we encourage all state agencies and non-profits working with children and parents to do the same.

We also encourage DFCS to collect data on the effectiveness of the program and to openly share the results with the community so successes can be built upon and challenges addressed.

Beth Locker

Policy Director

Sine Die can’t come soon enough for those of us who are weary from the longer than usual legislative session.  Yet, the General Assembly still has a full day ahead, and the 40th day can be a dangerous time as  troubling amendments can be attached to seemingly innocuous bills.

Most of my day will be spent watching out for amendments to bills that can affect kids.

The major item that the House and Senate must pass is the FY 11 conference committee report on the budget.  Based on tonight’s conference committee meeting, I expect that House and Senate leadership will congratulate each other tomorrow on the work that they did together to ensure that core state services are funded.  They will state that the budget process this year was transparent, that legislators in both chamber came together to make hard decisions in tough budget times, and they will state that the primary objective of the budget is to help strengthen Georgia’s economy.  Then, they will pass the budget.

But, tomorrow is also expected to be a day on which some of the most controversial social issues, including guns and abortion, are debated on the floor.  A conference committee is expected to meet to work to ensure that provisions on graduated sanctions are included in a juvenile justice bill.  The House could take up a bill that would base teacher salaries on student performance.  And the House and Senate must reach agreement on bills banning texting while driving.

And, throughout the day, we’ll learn who is filing to run for office and who is opting to retire as election qualifying week continues and legislators take the well to tell their colleagues that this will be their last sine die as members of the House or Senate.  Many members are retiring or leaving the legislature to run for other office.  The last number of empty seats expected was 21.

Voices will be at the Capitol all day and will share news about legislation relevent to children’s advocates.

Mindy Binderman

Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy

www.georgiavoices.org

The next constellation in the public policy sky may look like a baby crib.  This week two powerful organizations with strong business representation publicly underscored the need to invest in very young children.  Without it, they agree, we will not achieve higher graduation rates and work-ready young adults.  Furthermore, our businesses and government, meaning ultimately consumers and taxpayers, will pay more later.

On Monday the United Way Early Education Commission released its recommendations after 18 months of study.  Led by Dennis Lockhart, chair of the Atlanta Fed, and Dr. Beverly Tatum, president of Spelman, the Commission was clear that young children from birth to five must be a priority for Georgia, meaning that we must invest so that children are ready to learn by kindergarten and “reading to learn” by third grade.

Today, the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education emailed the third edition of Economics of Education.  Introduced by a letter from the executives of GPEE and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the report lays out three critical issues related to success in education and workforce development.  The first issue, Early Life Experiences, included not only the need for our Georgia PreK program but for infant and maternal health, quality child care and family supports.

Before we “race to the top” in our K-12 schools, let’s be sure we get in shape before the starting line.  Healthy and ready preschoolers will make the race a whole lot easier.

Pat Willis, Executive Director, Voices for Georgia’s Children

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