Georgia lawmakers target ‘learning pods,’ other school issues in passed bills

House Representatives throw paper in the air in the House Chambers following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
House Representatives throw paper in the air in the House Chambers following Sine Die, legislative day 40, at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In the final hours of this year’s legislative session, Georgia lawmakers addressed homeschooling, charter schools, teacher recruitment and mandatory courses about vaping and human trafficking, among other educational issues.

The bills were among the piles of legislative paper pushed across the finish line Wednesday before this year’s General Assembly session came to an end. They go next to Gov. Brian Kemp, who will decide whether they become law.

The voting ended yearslong debate about home-schooled students when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 42. The legislation, similar to bills introduced in prior years, would require their neighborhood schools to let them try out for the football team, the school musical or other extracurricular activities. In exchange, they would have to take at least one course at the school. Another bill affecting students at home was born of the pandemic: Senate Bill 246, dubbed the “learning pod protection act,” prohibits regulation of homes and other informal places where parents send their kids to work and play together, whether before or after school or to attend classes online.

ExploreAJC Bill Tracker: Which bills have been signed, vetoed by Gov. Kemp

Other potential laws were meant to avert a teacher shortage as Baby Boomers retire and succeeding generations eschew the low-paying profession. House Bill 32 would establish a $3,000 annual tax credit for up to 1,000 teachers who take a job in a low-performing or rural school. Earlier this month, lawmakers approved the Kemp-backed Senate Bill 88, targeting a myriad of recruitment, retention and training issues.

Charter schools found help in Senate Bill 59, which would give them more state funding while allowing participation in the state health insurance program. Parents who find their children have unmet health-related needs in public school and want to move them to private school also found support earlier in March when lawmakers voted to expand eligibility for the state’s only private school voucher program. For 14 years, it has been restricted to students with federally defined educational disabilities.

At-risk students were also extended a hand. Senate Bill 107 waives tuition and fees at state technical colleges for certain foster and adopted students and provides for in-state tuition at all state public colleges and universities for qualifying homeless students. Senate Bill 204 would create a pilot program allowing high school students to earn a diploma while taking job training courses at a technical college.

Lawmakers also passed House Bill 287 that would require students starting in kindergarten to learn about the risks of vaping and, starting in sixth grade, about human trafficking.

Meanwhile, legislation that seemed destined for passage fizzled, including an attempt to remove discipline counts from the state report card for schools and changes to the state program allowing tax-credited contributions to a private school tuition subsidy program.

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