Photo by Michael Buckelew
The fourth week of the legislative session saw a pickup of the pace, with 12 bills and resolutions reaching the floor of the House for a vote.
HR 1162 was by far the most significant piece of legislation we dealt with during the week. It offers a referendum for November to change the state constitution. If passed, it would allow the state to authorize charter schools, and empower the state government to set statewide education policy. This resolution is an effort to fix damage done by a state Supreme Court ruling last year. The ruling, while it was made in response to a lawsuit challenging the state's Charter School Commission, ended up having a far broader effect than simply to declare the commission unconstitutional. In a split 4 to 3 ruling, the court declared that local school systems have the exclusive responsibility of delivering on the education obligations in the state constitution. The dissenting justices, as well as state Attorney General Sam Olens, feel strongly that the ruling puts the state's ability to make statewide education policy in question, and likely puts the entire Title 20 (education law) section of the state code in jeopardy.
While there might be a few who cheer this state of affairs, I think this ruling throws one of our most important government responsibilities into a state of unacceptable uncertainty. If, using the ruling as a basis, someone successfully challenged some portion of Title 20 that they didn't like, then the remainder of the title might collapse as well. This would include the massive QBE program, under which most school systems receive roughly 50 percent of their operating funds. It further includes parent-backed protections like maximum class size caps, as well as the standardized pay scale that most teachers value. This situation certainly seems like a disproportionate amount of grief compared to the provocation produced by the Charter Commission, which authorized a total of 12 independent schools statewide in the course of its four-year existence.
Since I have long supported charter schools as a worthwhile experiment to improve educational performance, I was certainly ready to support HR 1162. Knowing that it would also deal with the Title 20 problems gave me even greater reason to vote yes. Nonetheless, most of the minority caucus opposed the measure, and a fair number of them rose to speak against it. Almost all said they supported charter schools, but either doubted that there was a problem with the court's ruling in the first place, or they agreed there was a problem, but felt that the fixes contained in the HR 1162 referendum were not the right way to solve it. Since putting a referendum on the ballot requires a two-thirds vote (120 out of 180) to pass, this legislation faced a high hurdle. After a two-plus hour debate, the vote was held. I cast a "yes," but the resolution failed by 110 to 62. A motion to reconsider was made, which means we may have a chance to vote again later in the session. I doubt that another 10 votes can be found though, so we may end up seeing the Title 20 viability question answered by having it actually put to the test.
Tuesday was 4-H Day and Youth Equine Day at the Capitol. Hayley Tanner and her mom Fonda from Mansfield were at the event, and Lindsey Frost (also from Mansfield), along with her mom Annette and brother Zane, came too. It was an exciting joint event with a big crowd and lots to see, and I enjoyed visiting with all these folks from home. On Wednesday, a group of folks came from Mansfield to testify before a committee hearing legislation intended to curb the actions of the Georgia Transmission Corporation. Mayor Estona Middlebrooks, Todd Hilton and his son, Evan, Carol Jones, Tom McCurley and Johnny Roquemore were there, and Todd and Tom did such an excellent job delivering powerful remarks on the bill that the committee members wanted copies of what they said, and of their supporting information. Here that same day on other business were Fred Greer of Mansfield and Dr. Henry Patton of Covington. I appreciated their courtesy in coming by to visit!
State Rep. Doug Holt can be reached at 404-656-0152. His email address is Doug@DougHolt.org.