With the 2021 Georgia Legislative session underway, the Georgia Department of Education announced has announced its priorities for this term.

The Department outlined nine legislative priorities that will guide State School Superintendent Richard Woods’ conversations with lawmakers in the upcoming session.

“Georgia’s public schools need support as they continue to meet the moment of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Woods said in his outline of the priorities. “And even when schools can go back to ‘normal,’ there is a ‘normal’ we cannot and should not go back to. We cannot return to the status-quo of over-testing, hyper-accountability, and data points determining destiny.”

These priorities all fall in line with the Superintendent’s new “Roadmap to Reimagining K-12 Education in Georgia.”

The 10 points in Woods’ roadmap include trying to achieve well-rounded education students across the state, the creation of multiple diploma pathways, reduction of high-stakes testing, and modernizing the state’s K-12 funding formula.

As part of trying to expand opportunities for students, the priorities include the creation of multiple diploma pathways, addressing the need for affordable and quality high-speed internet access as a basic utility for all Georgia families, and funding for a GaDOE Military Family Liaison position.

Broadband has been one issue for the west Georgia area, with some areas of the county lacking high-speed internet access. This has impacted students and was addressed by the Carroll County School System during virtual learning through the implementation of WiFi spots in certain schools in the district.

Under the roadmap’s goal of elevating the teaching profession and strengthening the teacher pipeline, two priorities were outlined.

One of these is pursuing robust teacher pipeline legislation, including the removal of certification loss as a punishment for developing teachers and the design of an evaluation system. The second priority seeks to promote changes to allow districts to utilize retired educators full time to fill high-need teaching positions

The last roadmap goal addressed is funding public education.

Education funding in the 2020 session was cut by approximately $950 million, or almost half of the state budget’s total reduction of $2.2 billion. But this is attributed to the fact that education has the largest percentage of the budget, which is also approximately one-half, making the cut proportional.

As part of this funding priority, Woods seeks one-time funding for school districts to off-set temporary student enrollment declines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Enrollment in public K-12 dropped this school year for local school systems as well as the state as a whole. Carroll County School System and Carrollton City School System both experienced a slight drop in enrollment this school year, defined as Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) students.

Funding for local schools comes partially from the Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act, which requires local school systems to report student enrollment in terms of FTE.

Two other priorities are to provide additional funding for transportation costs for school districts and to provide additional funding for school counselors, a GaDOE School Social Worker position, and a GaDOE School Nurse position.

The last priority under funding is to expand the allowable use of ESPLOST funds to include instructional software, subscriptions and other resources.

ESPLOST is a 1% Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that funds facility improvements across all county school systems. Over the summer, the fifth referendum for the ESPLOST passed in Carroll County, benefiting both local public school systems.

Carroll County School District during this sixth iteration of the ESPLOST will receive a maximum of $102,631,100 and Carrollton City School District will receive a maximum of $37,508,900.

Currently, these funds can only go towards facility improvements, but this priority would expand the school system’s usage of these funds.

Not on Woods’ list of priorities is permanent teacher pay raises. Last year, one of the largest topics discussed was pay raises on which Gov. Brian Kemp campaigned, pledging $5,000 raises, $3,000 of which has been fulfilled.

The remaining $2,000 was discussed last year, but when the pandemic hit, that could not be accomplished.

This year, Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said that lawmakers do not want to make further cuts and that the legislators had the “full intention” of giving teachers another raise last year.

Once they have an idea of what this year’s budget looks like, Dugan said, the issue of raises will be addressed. If it is possible for the raises, he said their goal would be to give the full $2,000 rather than a smaller amount.

“Now is the time to cast a clear vision of what our education system should be, and how our children’s futures should unfold.” said Woods in his outline of the priorities. “I look forward to working with the Georgia legislature to prioritize public education funding, elevate the teaching profession, strengthen the teacher pipeline, and expand opportunities for students.”