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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.

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.

Pre-K is “arguably the best investment we can make in education.”  So said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 29 during a live broadcast on Sirius XM Radio.  When asked about the role of Pre-K in the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s major education bill, Secretary Duncan was clear that K-12 needs to be invested in early childhood education.

Those who worry about college education likewise recommend investing in pre-school education.  The College Board recently decried the fact that the U.S. is slipping in its ranking of college-educated adults.  The solution?  According to Gasper Caperton, president of the College Board, we must  “think P-16 and improve education from pre-school through higher education.”

In the past 17 years Georgia has spent $12 billion of lottery funds to support both Pre-K and college access.  Yet we have not significantly increased our national rankings in either K-12 achievement or college completion.  Why not?  The objectives may be right but perhaps the program designs are wrong.  We need a better return on our investment.  This is the challenge for the next governor and legislature. 

Pat Willis, Executive Director

Voices for Georgia’s Children

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