State Option for Helping Troubled Schools Still on Track

Legislation that originated in the Georgia Senate over the past couple of months and met the March 13 deadline for that chamber’s approval has now moved over to the House of Representatives for action.

Two items originating in the Senate would move forward one of Gov. Nathan Deal’s educational priorities — the creation of a statewide “Opportunity School District” to provide temporary state assistance to about 100 schools that chronically fail to meet educational standards.

Senate Resolution 287 calls for a voter referendum on whether to amend the Georgia Constitution to authorize the establishment of the statewide Opportunity School District, and Senate Bill 133 establishes how such an initiative would be implemented.

The Georgia Association of Educators and the Georgia PTA oppose the Governor’s plan, but after SB 133 crossed over to the House last week, the legislation was reported out of the House Education Committee on March 23 with a favorable vote of 15-6.

I agree with the committee. While the legislation likely would have no impact in Barrow County, since we have no failing schools, I do feel the state option is needed elsewhere. Schools that chronically fail students also fail parents, teachers and communities.

If a local school board for years has not taken measures to improve the quality of education in its failing schools, what is there to motivate that board to make improvements? Just the existence of potential state intervention could improve the status quo in those communities.

Another Senate initiative that saw House action last week could have a significant impact on pocketbooks everywhere in Georgia.

Senate Bill 51 received quick approval in the House. The legislation would allow pharmacists to dispense “bio-similar” drugs to patients in order to cut costs. More doctors are using complex drugs made from living organisms — they’re called biologic medicines — to treat patients with chronic diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis. Bio-similar medications could cut costs by up to 80 percent. The legislation does spell out the steps pharmacists must take in order to make patients and their doctors aware of the substitutions.

The House also passed a couple of resolutions last week.

House Resolution 303 urges the State Board of Education to develop and implement a comprehensive civics education curriculum. Students would learn more about both their legal rights and responsibilities as citizens in Georgia. I hope the state board implements our suggestions, because it is vital that young people gain a good understanding of how their government works.

The House also approved Resolution 302, which urges the U.S. Congress to enact reforms to federally-financed graduate medical education programs so that states like Georgia receive their fair shares of funding for residency programs.

Doctors tend to set up their practices in the states where they do their residencies. So as the Governor has pointed out, it is important for our state to be able to offer more residency slots. The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee that I co-chaired over the past year concurred with the goal to grow residency slots in order to address physician shortages in rural Georgia, particularly in primary care.

Between now and the end of the session in early April, I will serve on the joint conference committee that will resolve changes the Senate made before passing the House appropriations legislation for FY2016, which starts July 1.

This I can promise: Education will continue to receive the largest share of state revenue in the upcoming fiscal year.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to represent Barrow County. May God bless you and your family and our great State.
Please feel free to contact me at 404-463-2245 or at englandhomeport@gmail.com with any questions or concerns you have.