Bills calling for larger classes, fewer tests clear House panel

ATLANTA — Legislation that would allow increased class sizes, and other bills meant to save public schools or teachers money, made it through committee Thursday at the Capitol and are a big step closer to becoming law.

But another proposal, to delay the start of the school year until the third week in August, went down in flames.

House Bill 1130 would allow widespread waivers to state-mandated class sizes instead of forcing school systems to request waivers on an individual basis. For the next three years, public schools could increase kindergarten through fifth grade classes by one student. Sixth through 12th-grade classes could increase by two students, if the bill gets final approval and if local school boards sign off on the change.

Local boards would also have to hold a public hearing before increasing class sizes.

The bill passed the House Education Committee on Thursday 14-5. Middle Georgia state representatives on the committee, Tony Sellier and Willie Talton, both voted for the bill. It moves to the House Rules Committee, where it will likely be approved and sent to the full House of Representatives for debate.

The change is meant to save school systems, and the state, money. Already, systems are moving to increase class sizes because of budget cuts. For example, Bibb County has five schools seeking class-size waivers.

Another bill, House Bill 1097, would have pushed school start dates across the state back to the third week in August. The idea is to increase tourism spending by making it easier for families to vacation in Georgia during one of the hottest months of the year. Many lawmakers thought the change would also save on air-conditioning costs, but committee members were against the change because they prefer letting local systems decide when to start.

The bill went down 3-18, essentially killing it for the year. Talton, R-Warner Robins, voted for it. Sellier, R-Fort Valley, voted against.

House Bill 1100 also passed the committee, and it does away with some state-mandated testing. Students would no longer take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in the first or second grades, if the bill gains final passage.

State schools Superintendent Kathy Cox has said previously that getting rid of the CRCT in first grade alone would save the state $700,000 a year.

House Bill 1100 would also allow the state Department of Education to do away with other tests if the state doesn’t appropriate enough money to cover them. That could do away with the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for some students. Many observers feel the state doesn’t put enough money toward public education, and this would be a way to cut some costs.

Finally, House Bill 1307 passed the committee. It would give teachers a five-year waiver on rules that now require them to take classes to re-up their teaching certificates. Depending on where they teach, some educators get these classes for free and some have to pay for them, legislators said.

But, with the state doing away with funding for Regional Education Service Agencies across Georgia, these classes will be harder to come by for rural teachers, they said.

Staff writer Julie Hubbard contributed to this report.

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