Supporting Excellent Science Teaching for Georgia

GSTA Legislative Report – February 13, 2016, Mid-Session Update

13 Feb 2016 12:54 PM | Jeremy Peacock (Administrator)

Science/STEM Education: Bills to Watch

On Thursday February 12th, the Georgia General Assembly completed the 20th day of the 40-day legislative calendar.  The next 20 days will be incredibly fast paced, as legislation must “cross-over” to the opposite chamber by day 30 (currently scheduled for February 29th) in order to remain in consideration.  Your GSTA team at the Capitol is actively monitoring relevant legislation as it moves through the committee process and will continue to report throughout the legislative session.  

Fiscal Year 2017 budget: The Governor’s proposed FY 2017 budget contains funds for the Department of Education to “develop a statewide, standards-based curriculum to guide instruction and assessment, and to provide training and instructional resources to teachers for implementing this curriculum.”

Status: The proposed FY 2017 budget is under consideration by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, but the final recommendations have not been released.  Once the House approves the budget it will move to the Senate and then to a joint “conference committee” for reconciliation before each chamber must approve the final conference committee report.  GSTA is actively supporting DOE's efforts to finalize and implement the revised Georgia Standards of Excellence in Science.  To that end, we are submitting letters of support for DOE's budget request to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

The following bills are general education measures that include provisions that will potentially affect science education in Georgia.  While GSTA is not taking an official position on these bills, we feel it is critical to monitor them through the legislative process and through possible implementation.  We encourage you to educate yourself on these bills and to contact legislators with any feedback you may have.

SB 364, sponsored by Senate Education Chairman Lindsey Tippins (R-Marietta). This bill seeks to reform the use of standardized tests in the evaluation of both students and teachers.  A major focus of the bill is to pivot from summative assessments to formative evaluations in math and reading.  Of note, science end of course tests would be administered annually in grades five and eight.  From a political standpoint, this bill has bi-partisan support and is sponsored by the Chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.  The Senate Republican Caucus, which is comprised of all republican members of the Senate, has selected this bill as a priority for the 2016 legislative session.  

Status: This bill has been first read on the Senate floor and was assigned to the Senate Education & Youth Committee.

SB 355, sponsored by Senator William Ligon (R-Brunswick). This bill seeks to enact numerous reforms to the use of standardized tests and Georgia’s teacher evaluation system.  If passed, the bill would reduce the impact of student scores on teachers and administrators.  Notably, the bill would also allow parents to opt-out of standardized tests if they so chose.  This bill, unlike SB 364, is driven by some of the more conservative members of the Senate Republican Caucus instead of by a bi-partisan coalition of legislators.  

Status: This bill has been first read on the Senate floor and was assigned to the Senate Education & Youth Committee.
HB 801, sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones (R-Milton). This bill, which has strong support from House leadership, seeks to allow the University System of Georgia to add GPA weights to certain STEM courses which would exclusively impact a student’s HOPE GPA.  The purpose of the bill is to prevent students from being discouraged from pursuing STEM courses because of the impact that the rigor could have on their HOPE scholarship eligibility.  

Status: This bill has been approved by the House of Representatives and is now eligible for consideration by the Senate Higher Education Committee.  The University System of Georgia, Technology Association of Georgia, and numerous other key stakeholders are supportive of this bill.  

HB 739, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville). This bill, which was drafted in consultation with the Department of Education and numerous school districts, seeks to bring greater transparency to the instructional materials adoption process.  The bill would require local districts to institute an instructional material review process that includes an easily accessibly public notice and a parental component.  

Status: This bill has been approved by the House of Representatives and is available for consideration by the Senate Education & Youth Committee.  

HB 816, sponsored by Rep. Billy Mitchell (D-Stone Mountain). This bill, entitled the “Student Religious Liberties Act of 2016” seeks to address students’ expression of religious viewpoints in public schools.  A portion of the bill addresses the expression of religious viewpoints through coursework and classroom assignments.  The bill would put into law that students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work. Instead, a student's academic work that expresses a religious viewpoint would be evaluated based on ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance to the course curriculum or requirements of the coursework, artwork, or assignment.

Status: This bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs).  We are continuing to watch this bill closely throughout the process. 

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