Senate bills challenge GHSA’s public-private, transfer bylaws

Lawmakers lay out priorities as first day of 2022 General Assembly gets under way

Lawmakers lay out priorities as first day of 2022 General Assembly gets under way

Two bills before the Georgia Senate, the latest introduced Wednesday, would put public and private high schools in separate regions and state playoffs and make transfer students immediately eligible for sports without having to move into their new school districts.

Senate Bills 328 and 334, sponsored by Jeff Mullis (R-Chickamauga) and eight other Republican state senators, also would abolish the Georgia High School Association and replace it with another non-profit organization designated by the department of education.

Similar language has appeared in previous bills to pressure the GHSA into changing its bylaws.

The GHSA’s board of trustees met Thursday and planned to schedule a meeting with Mullis in hopes of finding a compromise.

The bills are hovering over the GHSA days after its executive committee Monday ratified a reclassification plan that scrapped the public-private split that had existed in Class A for 10 years.

Since 2012, public and private schools in Class A, the classification for schools with less than about 550 students, have competed for separate state titles because of public schools’ concerns that private schools have unfair competitive advantages.

During the recent reclassification for 2022-23 and 2023-24, the GHSA did away with the split because of a dwindling number of small private schools. Fewer than 25 now have football teams after a dozen small private schools announced they were leaving for the Georgia Independent School Association.

Rather than continuing with the public-private split, the GHSA aimed to solve concerns of fair competition by applying to Class A schools a 3.0 enrollment multiplier to out-of-zone students. The result vaulted several smaller private schools such as Wesleyan, Athens Academy and Eagle’s Landing Christian into Class 3A and 2A. But they also aren’t entirely welcomed there, either.

Gordon Lee, a Class A public high school in Mullis’ district, lost an appeal Monday to compete in 2022-23 in Class A Division I instead of 2A, where the 3.0 multiplier placed it. Failing that, Gordon Lee petitioned and won to move up into Class 3A, where it still must compete with private schools for state titles for the first time since 2015-16.

The GHSA’s transfer rule, targeted in SB 328, allows immediately sports eligibility to transfer students only if they move into the attendance zone of their new school. Otherwise, they must sit out one year.

Like the public-private issue, transfer rules are controversial in most states. Georgia’s rule is not unusual, though many states have rules similar to what SB 328 is proposing.