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Governor Perdue Submits New Legislation to Improve Education in Georgia

Tuesday, January 27, 2004  Contact: Office of Communications 404-651-7774


Will increase school readiness, strengthen discipline, and promote local flexibility

Atlanta - Governor Perdue announced today the details of his education package. The package is comprised of three bills that address the priorities that Governor Perdue has established from his many discussions with students, parents and teachers.

"I have traveled the state listening to the folks on the frontlines of our education system," said Governor Sonny Perdue. "Three ideas consistently came up in my conversations- better preparation for all of our children entering school, stronger discipline, and more flexibility with resources at the local level. I believe that my education initiatives reflect that valuable input."

The package contains a bill that gives local school districts the flexibility they need while holding them accountable to a high standard of achievement. A second bill focuses on restoring respect for teachers in the classroom by strengthening school discipline. This bill will make it clear to disruptive students that teachers are in charge of the classroom by tying the ability to keep their driver's license to their behavior and attendance among other measures.

"I'm excited to carry Governor Perdue's bi-partisan discipline bill and thankful to my Democratic colleagues like Hinson Mosley for supporting this legislation," said Mark Burkhalter , Assistant Floor Leader for Governor Perdue. "It's the right thing to do for Georgia's teachers and students."

The package also proposes a reorganization of the Office of School Readiness (OSR) and renames it "Bright from the Start - Georgia 's Office of Early Care and Education." The Bright from the Start office will help ensure that every child enters kindergarten ready for success in school. It will improve coordination among Georgia 's wide array of early childhood programs, including the pre-K program and Smart Start Georgia. This realignment will eliminate duplication and bureaucracy and ensure more money goes directly to benefit children's early learning.

"Educating our youngsters is the wisest investment Georgia can make," said Governor Perdue. "We need to give Georgia 's children the brightest future possible, and the best way to do that is to get them off to a solid start."

The "flexibility with accountability" bill (SB429) and the school discipline bill (SB428) have been introduced by the Governor's Floor Leaders. The Bright from the Start legislation will be introduced later this week. The three bills are part of Governor Perdue's wider plan for improving education which also includes an across the board pay raise for teachers and measures to improve SAT scores.

Background on Governor Perdue's education proposal is attached.

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Flexibility and Accountability

Accountability for schools is important. That is why Governor Perdue is working hard to align Georgia with President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" package, as required by federal law. At the same time, we do not need our local schools run by a top-down, one-size-fits-all bureaucracy. Accountability without flexibility does not make sense. Governor Perdue's plan will allow us to identify which schools need improvement so that we can devote more attention to those high priority schools.

His proposals will:

  • Remove all site-based expenditure controls and position tests. Maintain one system-level expenditure control. State taxpayer money in direct instruction (82% of QBE funding) must remain in direct instruction at the system level. Twenty additional days and early intervention program (EIP) money must stay within these programs at the system level.
  • Allow schools to target their class size reductions through System Average Maximum Class Size. The average class size for each grade in a school system must be at or below what is set by state law. However, an individual class may be two students above the maximum. To stay below the system average maximum, a school system must have a class that is two students below the maximum for each class that is two students above the maximum. This allows school systems to target lower class sizes to students who are behind.
  • Prevent property tax increases: Tight spending controls are not feasible during a budget crisis when the state has reduced funding to systems; schools will be able to spend state funds where they are most needed.
  • Provide systems with needed flexibility to help them succeed under No Child Left Behind: Under NCLB's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), schools will need to target resources to groups of students who are not meeting AYP standards.
  • Help Poorer School Systems: Funding restrictions hurt poorer systems more, because a larger percentage of their funding is from the state. In the previous school year (the last one with expenditure controls), many poor school systems returned a total of $3M in money that they were not allowed to spend on students because of rigid state rules.
  • Improve flexibility in how systems address school councils and restore flexibility to charter schools.

Giving teachers a 20th step pay increase

Just like giving raises in private industry, raises for teachers promotes a good work ethic and helps us keep the best teachers. Those raises are given in increments called "steps." Today we have nineteen steps. The problem with this is that once teachers reach the nineteenth step, there is nowhere else for them to go. So, we can't give the teachers who have been there the longest and do the best work a raise. That just doesn't make sense. We need to add an additional step to reward our best teachers and keep them teaching longer.

Giving teachers a raise

Our teachers have suffered recently due to Georgia 's revenue problems, but they have not let that keep them from their important responsibilities in the classroom. Governor Perdue's budget includes a 2% across the board pay raise, a total cost of about $100 million. Not only had those at the top of the salary schedule (more than 19 years of experience) received no pay increases, their health insurance premiums have increased. This means they were bringing home less money than previous years.

Governor Perdue has rectified this problem by adding an L-6 step to the salary schedule so veteran educators get a 3% step increase-along with their 2% across the board pay increase. The L-6 step, at a total cost of approximately $50 million, brings the total teacher salary increase package to $150 million. Governor Perdue believes rewarding our teachers, especially our veteran educators, is a sign of respect and will keep them where they are needed, in the classroom.

Showing his priority for K-12 Education and his understanding of the fundamental importance of teacher quality to Georgia students, over 72% of K-12 teachers will receive pay increases this year of 5% or more. The 5% comes from step and training increases of 3% plus the 2% across the board raise. No other state employee will receive more than a 2% pay increase.

Saving the School Nurse Program

Given the scarcity of state dollars, some have asked that the $30M in tobacco settlement money earmarked for the school nurse program be diverted for other uses.

The Georgia PTA and others worked very hard to ensure that students in each Georgia public school have access to a nurse on campus. Therefore, Governor Perdue, Superintendent Cox, and Senator Joey Brush (the Chair of the Senate Education Committee) , have pledged that the school nurse money is "untouchable."

Tobacco funds for school nurses will continue to be appropriated to the Department of Community Health in Fiscal Year 2005 in order to maximize federal match funds. The Department of Community Health will pay school systems the full $30 million for school nurses in the same manner as payments for Fiscal Year 2004.

Bright From the Start: Improving Early Care and Education

A child's earliest years are critical for laying a foundation for learning. Many children are not receiving this solid foundation in their earliest years. Since Georgia 's children are Governor Perdue's highest priority, he is devoting special attention to their education.

Governor Perdue's proposals include:

  • Merging licensing functions for childcare centers into the Bright from the Start Office. Given its educational focus, the Bright From the Start Office will infuse early childcare centers with a greater culture of education.
  • Merging the functions of the Child Care Council into the Bright From the Start Office. This move will also reduce duplicative bureaucracy and allow for better coordination of state resources.
  • Moving federal Even Start dollars for early literacy into the Bright From the Start Office. Now that the Bright From the Start Office will have relationships with Head Start, all childcare centers in the state, and our state's pre-kindergarten program, the Bright From the Start Office is uniquely suited to blending these early literacy dollars into existing efforts to get all young Georgia children ready for school.
  • Attaching SmartStart Georgia to the Bright From the Start Office to allow for better coordination.

Restoring Respect for our Teachers by Improving School Discipline

Governor Perdue's proposals will make it clear to disruptive students that teachers are in charge of the classroom. Disruptive students need to respect their teachers and their fellow students or they will be held accountable.

Student codes of conduct must clearly establish the authority of principals and teachers in the school system to remove disobedient, disrespectful, violent, abusive, uncontrollable, and disruptive students.

Students with ten or more unexcused absences in any semester will not be permitted to have a driver's license or permit until they resume regular school studies.

Students who have been suspended from school, for any reason, for more than ten cumulative days, will have their driver's licenses suspended, and they will not be permitted to regain their license or permit until six months later.

Students under the age of 18 who have been suspended from school for violent or drug related criminal offenses will have their licenses suspended, and they will not be able to regain their driver's license until six months later or until the period of suspension from school is over, whichever is longer.

Students under the age of 18 who have been suspended from school for criminal sexual offenses or for causing substantial or visible bodily harm to others will have their driver's licenses suspended, and they will not be permitted to regain their license until six months later or until the period of suspension from school is over, whichever is longer.

Parents will no longer be allowed to give permission for students younger than 18 to receive a driver's license if that student has dropped out of school.

Students under the age of 18 who have dropped out of school will no longer be permitted to obtain a driver's license or permit.

The rules should apply to everyone. All provisions of the discipline code will apply to students in grades K-5. (Current law exempts grades K-5 from the discipline provisions in state law.)

Discipline orders of Georgia private schools and out-of-state public schools will now "follow the child." This will allow public school systems to refuse enrollment to students who have been suspended from another public school, a private school in Georgia , or from an out-of-state public school for the time remaining under that school's disciplinary order.

Student codes of conduct must provide that school superintendents fully support the authority of principals and teachers to remove disobedient, disrespectful, violent, abusive, uncontrollable, and disruptive students from the classroom.

Truancy is a community problem, not merely a school problem. Therefore, each local school district will implement the recommendations of a student attendance protocol committee that will address students who chronically skip class. The protocol committee will be convened by the chief superior court judge of each county and will require the attendance of various judicial, law enforcement, and health officials in each county. Local people know best how to solve local problems. These committees will allow them to do just that through collaboration.