Several education bills passed this year by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp went into effect Monday. Among the most noteworthy are new laws regarding dyslexia …
Several education bills passed this year by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp went into effect Monday.
Among the most noteworthy are new laws regarding dyslexia screenings and support, Bible classes and computer science courses for middle and high schools.
Senate Bill 48 — sponsored by Sens. P.K. Martin, Kay Kirkpatrick, Matt Brass, Renee Unterman, Freddie Sims and Zahra Karinshak and Rep. Brett Harrell and signed May 2 — requires schools to screen all kindergarten students for dyslexia and to identify and support students in kindergarten through third grade who show the characteristics of the learning disorder.
It also requires ongoing professional development opportunities relating to dyslexia for teachers, creating a teaching endorsement in dyslexia and establishing a three-year pilot program to demonstrate and evaluate the effectiveness of early reading assistance programs for students with risk factors for dyslexia.
The Georgia Department of Education also will be required to make a dyslexia informational handbook available to local school systems.
Cartersville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said he thinks the intent of SB 48 is “good, and there are definitely positive outcomes that can come with the passing of the bill.”
“I am very interested in seeing the results of the [three-year] pilot program being implemented in a few districts throughout the state,” he said. “I am hopeful the appropriate funding will be provided by the state after the results of the pilot program have been reviewed.”
Feuerbach said he’s also looking forward to receiving the handbook from the DOE as well as the “collaborative efforts that will create meaningful professional development.”
“We, as a system, already began taking steps to address dyslexia this year by providing some basic professional development to all of our teachers,” he said. “We will continue to move forward with our professional development plan on the topic of dyslexia.”
Dr. David Chiprany, deputy superintendent of the Bartow County School System, also supports the new law. “It is a good idea to screen early because birth to age 8 is a critical period for literacy development,” he said. “Research shows brain growth and its response to instruction is greater during those years. By identifying the instructional needs of struggling students early, we can improve student learning.”
Another new law is Senate Bill 83, known as the Bible bill, which was signed by the governor May 6.
Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Mullis, Butch Miller, Michael Dugan, John Albers, Steve Gooch and Burt Jones and Rep. Rick Jasperse, the law broadens an existing law that allows high schools to offer elective courses on the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments.
SB 83 adds the Hebrew Scriptures to what can be taught in these classes and also expands the content areas that can be offered for credit about these texts and their influence on society and culture, including courses on the law, government, art, music, customs, morals and values.
Currently, neither school system offers courses in the Old and New Testaments, but both would consider it in the future.
“We would be open to the idea if we had an abundance of student interest, and we had the teacher allotments to fit these elective courses into our master schedule,” Feuerbach said.
“Due to the timing of the legislative approval, we do not anticipate adding those courses this year,” Bartow Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page said. “However, future course curriculum additions will be discussed.”
A third new law, SB 108, signed May 2, requires courses in computer science to be taught in middle school and high school.
The classes would be phased-in, and grants for professional development programs for computer science teachers also would be provided.
The bill was sponsored by Martin, Albers, Miller and Kirkpatrick, Sen. Jesse Stone and Rep. Todd Jones.
Both superintendents agree the new law is a good one.
“I think it is an excellent idea based upon the workforce needs that are currently present and those that we know will exist in the future,” Feuerbach said. “Even without this bill, Cartersville City Schools is looking at the best option to implement computer science in both our high school and middle school. The bill requires computer science courses to be in place by 2022-23, but I am hopeful we will have it in place even earlier.”
The requirement will help students become even more tech savvy in the “digital age” in which they’re living, Page said.
“The skills students learn in computer science, such as problem-solving, are needed in every industry and an essential part of well-rounded academic preparation,” he said.
And, of course, both superintendents were excited about the $3,000 teacher pay raise that Kemp included in the fiscal year 2020 state budget.
“I appreciate our governor showing a commitment to education and improved teacher salaries,” Page said. “It is well-deserved, as our educators hold a tough job.”
“We are thankful for the $3,000 raise that was put in the FY 2020 budget for certified teachers and the 2% raise that was put in the FY 2020 budget for classified employees,” Feuerbach said. “We appreciate the support given to public education in the FY 2020 budget, and I hope we continue to see this support each year.”
Other education bills that went into effect Monday include:
— House Bill 68, which restricts the types of organizations that can handle state tax-credit funding for private school scholarships.
— HB 12, which requires every public school to post a sign containing the toll-free telephone number operated by the Division of Family and Children Services of the Department of Human Services to receive reports of child abuse or neglect.
— HB 218, which allows students receiving a HOPE scholarship for the first time between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2019, to have seven years of eligibility from their high school graduation and students receiving it for the first time on or after July 1, 2019, to have 10 years of eligibility from their graduation date. Active-duty military service will not count against those time periods.
— SB 60, which provides for guidelines and other relevant materials to inform students participating in interscholastic athletic activities about the nature and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest and to provide for removal from an athletic activity under certain circumstances and to establish return-to-play policies.
— SB 25, which clarifies when drivers are required to stop for a stopped school bus, was passed and signed in February, very early in the legislative session.
Kemp also vetoed a couple of education bills — HB 83, which would’ve mandated recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and SB 15, “Keeping Georgia’s Schools Safe Act,” which would’ve required public and private schools to perform certain threat assessments during the school year.