This week, we passed some vital pieces of legislation that look to enhance Georgia's system of education, including legislation from Lt. Governor Casey Cagle's 2007 education package. The General Assembly has really kicked into high gear now, and education turned out to be the major focus of last week, dominating much of the calendar. There was some great debate this week, and I am confident that we have taken steps to push our system of education forward in new, innovative directions.
Charter Systems Act
Lt. Gov. Cagle made improving Georgia's schools a cornerstone of his campaign, and the Senate agrees that Georgia students deserve the best our state can offer. Senate Bill 39 looks to use charter schools as an avenue for reducing government regulation and allowing teachers the flexibility to do what is necessary to educate our children. A charter school is a public school that is allowed more local flexibility through exemptions from certain state regulations. In exchange for this freedom, charter schools must meet certain performance goals as laid out in their charter or contract. These schools previously have existed as traditional public schools (conversion charter schools) or can be new schools created by their charter (start up charter schools).
Senate Bill 39, which passed out of the Senate this week, will help to continue and accelerate the success of Georgia's charter schools. The bill provides for the creation of charter systems so that an entire school system can petition for a charter, not just individual schools. The bill also proposes the creation of the Charter Advisory Committee to give input to the State Board regarding the approval or denial of charter petitions. I am pleased to tell you that SB 39 passed almost unanimously in the Senate, with a vote of 52 to 3.
HOPE Chest Amendment
This week, Senate Resolution 125 was introduced, which is otherwise known as the HOPE Chest amendment. As part of Gov. Perdue's legislative agenda for 2007, the resolution provides for a constitutional amendment that would limit the use of state lottery revenues to costs associated with the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K programs. Between the 1994 and 2003 fiscal years, state legislators appropriated over $1.8 billion in lottery revenue on budget items outside of the HOPE and Pre-K programs. The HOPE Chest Amendment would mandate that lottery funds only be spent on the HOPE and Pre-K programs. We feel it is crucial to protect HOPE, and to make sure that down the road it is available for millions of Georgia students. This amendment is not about any previous administrations or legislatures. This is a bipartisan effort to be the best stewards of these two important programs that we can be.
Georgia Special Need Scholarship Act
Senate Bill 10 allows the parents of special needs children to use scholarships to educate their children either in a public or private school. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Eric Johnson of Savannah, following the model of Florida's successful McKay Scholarship Program. If a school fails to meet the expectations of the parents of a special needs child, the GSN Scholarship will allow them to use the state's share of their child's funding as a scholarship to enroll their child in another school - either within the public school system or at a private school. At its basic level, SB 10 simply provides an option for the parent of a child with specials needs when they believe a local public school is not helping. SB 10 passed out of the Senate this week and now moves on to the House for consideration.
In the upcoming weeks, we will consider many bills, including some ideas that come from the new www.georgiaspeaks.com website, where constituents can log on and submit their ideas for new legislation. Remember, your concerns are my concerns, so please contact me in my office and let me know the issues that are affecting you.
Sen. Jim Whitehead, Sr., serves as Chairman of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 24th Senate District which includes Columbia, Glascock, Lincoln, McDuffie and Wilkes counties and portions of Elbert and Warren counties. He can be reached at 404-656-5114 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.