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This primer is the third of a five-part series to guide voters through the upcoming midterm election for Georgia agriculture, labor, insurance and public service commissioners as well as the superintendent of schools – down ballot races often overlooked by average voters. This series examines how what happens in these offices impact you.
Nearly 2 million Georgia children have returned or are headed back to the classroom for the 2022-23 school year.
It’s a fresh but crucial start for a state educational system hit hard by the pandemic. A state audit found Covid-19 put Georgia’s public school students three-to-six months behind due to remote learning.
How well — and how quickly — Georgia’s students recoup from COVID’s impact falls largely on the State School Superintendent.
The state’s top education czar also will be working to retain teachers at a time when educators are dealing with burnout, rising political and parental pressures and concerns over school shootings. And as the chief overseer of the state’s Department of Education, there's actual school work to do.
“Every so many years, the standards for each subject matter has to be updated,” said Martha Zoller, a Georgia Board of Education member who represents District 9 in the northeastern part of the state. “We just finished the math standards. We're working on the English standards right now.”
Georgia’s school superintendent enforces the policies of the state’s department of education and any school receiving state aid. The superintendent also is required, by law, to make recommendations to ensure the welfare and efficiency of the state’s 181 school districts. Those districts include over 2,200 schools, about 1.6 million students and 114,800 teachers.
Why It Matters
K-12 education accounts for about a third of Georgia’s entire $30 billion-plus budget, according to Georgia House Bill 911 (FY2023). Even if you don’t have children in school, you’re still paying for their educational care. More than 45% of Georgia public education funding comes from local tax revenue such as property tax, according to the National Education Association.
“When you think about property taxes and all the other money that goes towards education, it is a huge responsibility as far as management is concerned,” Zoller said.
The state superintendent’s job is “the most important job in the state,” said Julie Magardo, a third-grade teacher in Paulding County who has taught for 27 years. “We are educating the future of our country.”
Technology, as well as ever-evolving testing and new initiatives, has made teaching more challenging and complex, said Magardo. “I always feel like I'm trying to fly a plane while I'm building it,” she said.
For the past two decades, Georgia schools have been sorely underfunded. Some $10 billion has been shaved from the school budget during that time - even as enrollment grew by more than 250,000 students. The austerity forced many teachers to reach into their own pockets to pay for much-needed school supplies. Many districts rely on federal money to fill gaps left by the state.
To kick off this new school year, Gov. Brian Kemp announced in late-July a statewide Back to School supplement. All full-time public school teachers and staff will get $125 to use for school supplies. The money comes from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. Public school teachers also are expected to get a $2,000 raise in September.
Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods, who has been in the position since 2015 , keeps his job or if it goes to his Democratic challenger Alisha Thomas Searcy, a Spelman College graduate and former Georgia state Representative who owns an education consulting business.
“I'm looking for the State School Superintendent to talk about the relationship between parents, students and teachers,” Zoller said. “Parents pay the bills, and they do deserve a seat at the table but we have to have it in a way that is constructive for everybody.”
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Read State Affairs’ Georgia Votes 2022 series.
Header photo: Students from Sutton Middle School’s debate team practice for an upcoming competition. (Credit: Allison Shelley for EDUimages by All4Ed)
A study committee of Georgia senators took a decisive step Tuesday toward ending a longstanding and contentious law that regulates how and where new medical facilities are located in the state.
The committee’s decision centers on the 44-year-old Certificate of Need law. It was created to control health care costs and cut down on duplication of services and unnecessary expansions. It determines when, where and if hospitals need to be built. Opponents have said the law prevents competition and enables big hospitals to have a monopoly, often shutting out small and private medical outlets.
On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform effectively said the law needs to be repealed. The committee approved, in a 6-2 vote, nine recommendations.
“Based upon the testimony, research presented, and information received, the Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform has found that the problem Georgia’s CON law was intended to combat no longer exists,” the report said.
However, the head of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals said Tuesday that repealing the law would be a bad idea.
“It would have a devastating financial impact on hospitals and the quality and access to health care,” Monty Veazey, the alliance’s chief executive, told State Affairs.
Veazey said he has not seen the recommendations yet but his organization has sent its own set of recommendations to the senate and house study committees.
“We believe that the certificate of need really does need some modernization and we look forward to working with the committee to work through those recommendations and see if we can reach a compromise position during the upcoming legislative session,” Veazey said. “We still want to see what the House committee recommends before moving forward.”
Here’s what the senate study committee recommends, according to a draft:
- Repeal CON requirements for obstetrics services, neonatal intensive care, birth centers and all services related to maternal and neonatal care across Georgia.
- End requirements for hospital-based CON on Jan. 1, 2025.
- Reform CON laws to eliminate CON review for new and expanded inpatient psychiatric services and beds that serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured.
- Repeal all cost expenditure triggers for CON.
- All medical and surgery specialties should be considered a single specialty, including cardiology and general surgery.
- Multi-specialty centers should be allowed, particularly in rural areas.
- Remove CON for hospital bed expansion.
- Revise freestanding emergency department requirements such that they must be within 35 miles of an affiliated hospital.
- Remove CON for research centers.
The committee will present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
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ATLANTA — The first step in the 2023 electoral redistricting process occurred Monday when Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, released a draft proposal of new Senate district maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its state House, Senate and congressional district maps, adopted in 2021 by a majority-Republican-led Legislature, after finding they violated the Votings Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Georgia General Assembly is charged with submitting new maps to comply with Jones’ order by Dec. 8, and will be meeting in an eight-day special legislative session to do so, starting on Wednesday.
The proposed Senate maps would create two Black-majority voting districts while eliminating two white majority districts in metro Atlanta now represented by Democrats. The districts of state Sen. Elena Parent, chair of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, a freshman, would become majority-Black if the redrawn maps make it through the redistricting process, a change that could invite considerably more primary challenges.
The proposed maps do not significantly alter the district lines for Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, whose districts Jones ruled did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. It will be up to Jones to decide if the new maps pass muster.
As it stands, the proposed Senate map will leave Republicans with a 33-23 advantage in the Senate.
On Wednesday legislators will plunge into their redistricting work during a special session at the Capitol. In addition to the state Senate maps, lawmakers must also redraw electoral maps to create Black majorities in one additional congressional district in west-metro Atlanta, and in five additional state House districts in Atlanta and the Macon-Bibb County area.
The proposed Senate maps (and all proposed maps to be submitted by legislators) are available on the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office’s website. Written comments can be submitted (and viewed) by the public through the portal available on the Georgia General Assembly website. Most of the reapportionment and redistricting committee’s hearings are open to the public; the daily legislative schedule is available here.
“The committee encourages public participation and values the input of the community in this vital democratic process,” Echols said in a statement released on Monday.
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Veteran government and political aide Lauren Curry has been named Gov. Brian Kemp’s chief of staff, becoming the first woman in Georgia’s 235-year history to hold that title. Curry, currently the deputy chief of staff, assumes her new role on Jan. 15. She succeeds Trey Kilpatrick who has accepted a job with Georgia Power as …
ATLANTA — An invitation-only tribute service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter will be held at 1 p.m. today on the campus of Emory University at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. Former President Jimmy Carter, who has been receiving hospice care at home in Plains since February, is expected to attend, along with other Carter …