education outcomes 2023

Education successes from the 2023 Georgia legislative session

We have much to celebrate as the 2023 Georgia legislative session comes to a close. At the same time, there is still much work to be done. That’s what this blog post is all about. First, we’ll take a look at recent victories in the area of education during the session. Then, we’ll talk about the road ahead—what still needs to be accomplished for the good of Georgia’s schoolchildren and families.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity team serves as an important source of information to lawmakers on the impact new laws can have on communities around Georgia, particularly the poor and underrepresented.

School literacy bills

A bright spot in the 2023 legislative session was the passage of two literacy bills that will improve reading and writing skills among Georgia’s kids. According to the Georgia Department of Education, only 64% of Georgia’s third-graders read at or above grade level. These bills will pave the way for our children to enjoy greater literacy, which will impact their educational and professional future.

Here is more about the two bills:

House Bill 538: The Georgia Early Literacy Act requires the state Board of Education to “approve high-quality instructional materials to be used for teaching students in kindergarten through third grade.” This will give Georgia an opportunity to raise the bar on literacy education for public school students in every community. 

Senate Bill 211: This legislation establishes the Georgia Council on Literacy. The Council will work with local school systems to develop a five-year plan to improve reading and writing among Georgia’s students. Coupled with state-approved instructional materials, we have renewed hope for seeing significant improvements in literacy over the next few years.


School safety

The next bill passage regards school safety, which is always an incredibly important topic, but which has received heightened attention in recent months. Here’s a look at the coming changes.

    • House Bill 147: The Safe Schools Act requires local school districts to develop safety plans and submit those plans to the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HS). Because of the heightened threats on schools these days, having districts work with the experts at GEMA/HS will increase the safety of our children.

 It’s important to act quickly, and act together, for the benefit of our kids.

 It’s important to act quickly, and act together, for the benefit of our kids.

School accreditation

Finally, let’s go over the school accreditation bill that passed during this year’s session. 

    • Senate Bill 204: This legislation puts parameters on what K-12 school accreditation organizations can consider when they evaluate school districts. The bill is designed to address concerns that these organizations were limiting local elected school boards’ important discussions and debates.


Bad news from the 2023 Georgia legislative session

Now for the bad news. Despite passing in the Senate and making significant gains in the House, the Promise Scholarship bill (SB 233) didn’t get enough votes to pass on the last day of session. This delay has forced 500,000+ kids in failing public schools to wait yet another year for this critical education option.

Georgia’s General Assembly missed opportunities to adopt three other good education reforms. We’ll address each, but first, we’ll cover what happened to SB 233. 


What happened to promise scholarships?

The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, SB 233, would have given parents $6,500 per year, per student to find the right education options for their kids. This would have opened up many non-traditional options, including private school, for families who want alternatives to the public school route. Eligibility would have been narrowed to around 400,000 kids stuck in the bottom 25% of public schools, based on the Georgia Department of Education’s evaluation.

    • The Promise Scholarship bill passed the Senate with unanimous support from Republican senators but, sadly, received no support from Democratic senators. It went all the way to the House of Representatives for a vote. The fact that the bill made it that far in the legislative process is good news.
    • On the last day of session, SB 233 received 85 votes in the House—six votes short of the 91 needed for passage. Sixteen Republican representatives voted against the bill. All but one Democratic representative voted against SB 233: the brave Rep. Mesha Mainor (Atlanta), who voted for the bill on behalf of her constituents’ interests.
    • Thankfully, SB 233 is still on the table for the 2024 legislative session. In the meantime, Georgia students stuck in underperforming schools will be forced to wait another year for this education option to be considered.

The ugly: Public school transfers, charter school management, and tax credit scholarships

As promised, let’s look at three other important opportunities the Georgia Legislature missed during the 2023 session. None of the following bills gained the traction they needed, depriving Georgia families and children of important or increased educational opportunities for at least one more year. 

    • Senate Bill 147 would have allowed students to transfer to attend better public schools, even if it was in a different school district. Other states like Arizona, Florida, and Indiana have seen success with similar laws. The bill never gained any traction, but can be considered again next year.
    • House Bill 318 would have streamlined the oversight of state- and locally-authorized charter schools. The bill passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support, but late amendments to the bill delayed the process. The Legislature adjourned for the session without the opportunity to agree to the Senate changes.
    • House Bill 54 would have increased the cap on Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship program from $120 million to $130 million. After going through changes in the House, the bill passed that chamber and moved on to the Senate. In a raucous Senate Committee meeting, the Tax Credit Scholarship portion of the bill was amended several times with unfriendly amendments, and ultimately, the bill died. Fortunately, the program is still operating under the existing cap of $120 million, giving Student Scholarship Organizations the opportunity to continue serving many Georgia students.

Looking toward 2024

While Georgia made important strides forward in school literacy, safety, and accreditation for 2023, there’s still much to be desired when it comes to opportunities for students and their families. It’s our mission to continue championing the value of bills like SB 233. Putting school funding into the hands of parents who wish to depart from the state’s status quo only makes sense; families’ tax dollars should support whatever educational path they choose. 

Likewise, school choice and tax credit scholarships should be open to a wider demographic of families statewide. It’s important to act quickly, and act together, for the benefit of our kids. As we look forward to the next legislative session, we’ll do everything we can to champion positive change.

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