Kemp signs school safety, literacy bills

Gov. Brian Kemp, during a trip to Savannah to speak at a school superintendents' conference on Thursday, April 13, 2023, signed several education bills that the General Assembly had adopted before the legislative session ended on March 29, 2023. In this photo, he spoke to members of the House at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta that evening, known as Sine Die. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp, during a trip to Savannah to speak at a school superintendents' conference on Thursday, April 13, 2023, signed several education bills that the General Assembly had adopted before the legislative session ended on March 29, 2023. In this photo, he spoke to members of the House at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta that evening, known as Sine Die. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Public schools in Georgia will have to hold drills each fall to prepare for the possibility of an armed intruder, and state education officials will have to identify training for K-3 teachers that is consistent with the “science of reading” as schools overhaul the way they teach young children to read.

Those are among the mandates that Gov. Brian Kemp signed on Thursday after speaking to school superintendents at a conference in Savannah.

“I am honored to sign these important bills into law to make our schools both safer and more successful,” Kemp said in a statement.

Kemp signed House Bill 147, a school safety bill that had been introduced by his floor leader, Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville. It requires students, school administrators, teachers and other school personnel to do safety drills that include preparedness against armed intruders. The drills must be done annually by Oct. 1 starting this fall, and the law lets school districts decide whether to allow parents to opt their children out.

That legislation also allows qualified teachers to seek special anti-gang training. It gives the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC), which certifies educators, until the end of the year to create a “school safety and anti-gang endorsement” for “eligible” certified personnel.

Senate Democrats derided the legislation as offering only “illusory” protection, but most of them voted for it along with Republicans.

Senate Bill 211 by Sen. Billy Hickman, R-Statesboro, also signed by Kemp on Thursday, will create a literacy council tasked with studying why many students in third grade cannot read on grade level. The council, comprising 30 members to be appointed by the governor and state lawmakers, will meet through 2026 to review literacy programs and determine which are “evidence-based.” Lawmakers approved $251,000 to fund the council in the budget for fiscal year 2024.

The council will help implement another literacy bill signed by Kemp Thursday. House Bill 538, by Rep. Bethany Ballard, R-Warner Robins, requires the Georgia Department of Education to identify literacy training for teachers in kindergarten through third grade — training that is consistent with the “science of reading,” which focuses on technical aspects, such as identifying letter-sound relationships and letter patterns.

The PSC has until July 1, 2025, to ensure its teacher certification tests are “aligned with developmentally appropriate evidence based literacy instruction,” language that is likely to influence how Georgia education colleges prepare teachers. And all K-3 teachers have that same deadline to complete a literacy training program “developed or procured” by the state.

Starting with the fall semester of 2024, schools will have to administer a reading screener to all K-3 students three times a year, and they will have until Aug. 1 of that school year to implement intervention plans for students who show signs of a significant reading deficiency. School boards have until Dec. 1 of that year to approve “high-quality” instructional materials for students.

The bill requires the state to recommend screeners and instructional materials.

About the Author