Updated on May 10th, 2023 after Governor Kemp’s vetoes, disregards,* and signings.
For the past three months, the GEEARS team has been testifying, attending committee meetings, sending action alerts, and meeting with legislators to promote the well-being of the youngest Georgians and their families. Then, at 12:15 a.m. on Thursday, March 30th, the 2023 legislative session came to a frenzied end with the flurry of speeches, negotiations, and votes known as Sine Die.
As the dust settles, we’re still wrapping our heads around the outcomes, both affirming and disappointing. We were heartbroken, for instance, that the budget did not include any additional state dollars for child care. But we also have some encouraging musings on the session.
We’ve observed in Georgia’s lawmakers a growing, informed excitement about early childhood and its potential to set children up for success in both school and life. In particular, legislators seem increasingly cognizant of the direct pathway from high-quality early care and education to literacy during the elementary years. (We’re proud to admit that some of their information came from GEEARS and our fellow early childhood advocates.) On March 28th, for instance, Speaker of the House Jon Burns established a bipartisan House Working Group on Early Childhood Education “to better prepare children for success in the classroom from an early age.”
In addition, there were some exciting wins to celebrate for Georgia’s young children, their families, and those who care for them, such as: the extension of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to pregnant women; the removal of the end date for the Family Care Act, which allows employees to use sick leave to care for family members; $2,000 raises for lead and assistant teachers in Georgia’s Pre-K, along with funding for Pre-K operations; and funding for a home visiting pilot to support moms and babies in rural areas.
For our policy team’s detailed recap of this year’s legislative wins, losses, and deferrals until 2024, read below!
Early Childhood Education
- Speaker Jon Burns announced a House Working Group on Early Childhood Education, demonstrating the further emphasis from Georgia leaders on the importance of the early years on future success. As Speaker Burns said in the press release, there is “a need to better prepare children for success in the classroom from an early age.” GEEARS is excited to find ways to support this working group in increasing access to high-quality early childhood education during the off-session.
- HB 538, called the Georgia Early Literacy Act, requires the State Board of Education to approve high-quality literacy instructional materials and screeners as well as evidence-based literacy certification courses and training for K-3 teachers. Some of the language from HB 537, which requires child care teachers in licensed programs to receive training on developmentally appropriate evidence-based literacy instruction beginning July 1, 2025, was added to the bill. SB 538 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor, but no additional funding was allocated for the activities outlined in the bill.
- SB 211 will create the Georgia Council on Literacy to conduct comprehensive reviews of birth to postsecondary programs, the alignment of state support for such programs, and other issues related to improving the literacy outcomes of Georgia students. SB 211 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the governor. SB 211 includes a $1 million line in the budget: $251,000 for personnel and operations for the Georgia Council on Literacy and $749,000 to support the implementation of effective literacy methods, including digital curriculum for Pre-K through 5.
- Several study committees that focused on high-quality early education, including SR 144 (which would create the Senate Expanding Early Childhood Education Study Committee) and HR 281 (which would create the House Study Committee on Lottery Revenues, Reserves, and Educational Programs), were introduced but ultimately did not pass. However, we anticipate the House Working Group on Early Education, announced by Speaker Burns on March 28th and described above, will consider opportunities for the state to improve access to high-quality ECE.
- HB 173, which would mandate pre-kindergarten and kindergarten for eligible children, lowering the age of compulsory school attendance from six years old to four years old, did not receive a committee hearing.
- The final budget included:
- An additional $2,000 for Pre-K lead and assistant teachers’ salaries. The quality of instruction in early childhood classrooms depends on committed, well-prepared teachers. (total: $20.65 million).
- An additional $14 million to increase Pre-K operations budgets to help mitigate the effects of inflation and support quality.
- An additional $8 million in Lottery funds to support early literacy.
- An additional $2,000 in the base salary of teachers of preschool-aged children with disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B) (total: $1.05 million).
- An additional $1.05 million in CCDF state funding (which primarily funds Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) Program) to meet the state match and maximize existing federal funds.
- GEEARS and our partners asked the state legislature to invest an additional $20 million in Georgia’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) Program, particularly with the upcoming end of federal relief funding. Nearly 300 of you reached out to your legislators with the simple message that #GANeedsChildCare. While the funding is not included in the FY24 budget, GEEARS is committed to continuing our advocacy for CAPS.
- SB 106, the “Healthy Babies Act,” creates a three-year pilot program to provide Medicaid reimbursement for maternal and fetal heart-rate monitors. SB 106 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor. SB 106 includes a $1 million line in the budget.
- SB 46 requires that pregnant women be tested for HIV and syphilis throughout pregnancy. SB 46 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor.
- HB 520 would address Georgia’s mental health workforce, data sharing for child-serving state agencies, and Medicaid recommendations for children’s mental health services. HB 520 overwhelmingly passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
- The final budget included:
- $1.7 million to support a home visiting pilot in Northeast and Southeast rural Georgia. This pilot integrates medical care into home visits, using community health workers.
- Funding to eliminate the 5-year waiting period to receive Medicaid for eligible children and pregnant women who are legal permanent residents.
- Medicaid reimbursement for services provided by licensed professional counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists, and certified peer support specialists in federally qualified health centers (FQHCs).
- SB 61 removes the end date on the Family Care Act, which allows employees to use five days of earned sick leave for the care of immediate family members. Originally passed in 2017 with a three-year sunset provision, the bill was extended again by the Georgia legislature in 2020. If signed into law, this bill will permanently remove the sunset provision. HB 61 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor.
- HB 129 extends Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to pregnant women who do not already have another child and gives incremental increases to women who give birth while on TANF. HB 129 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor. We applaud this important step and hope it represents the beginning of much-needed enhancements to the TANF program.
- SB 216 authorizes longer periods of respite care for foster parents. SB 216 passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor.
- SR 282 creates a Senate study committee on foster care and adoption. The Senate passed this resolution, and the Lt. Gov named this a priority.
- HB 211 would eliminate the state sales tax on diapers. HB 211 did not receive a committee hearing. We expect it will be addressed in 2024 (the second year of the two-year legislative cycle).
- HB 298 would excuse or defer from jury service parents with children aged 6 months or younger. HB 298 passed the House unanimously but did not make it to the Senate floor this session.
- HB 826 would provide preferential treatment during voting to those who are pregnant or accompanied by a child age five or younger or by a child with special needs regardless of age. This bill was introduced near the end of session and did not receive a committee hearing.
- HB 404, the Safe at Home Act, would improve the rights of tenants by enhancing eviction protecting and assuring housing is fit for human habitation, among other policies. HB 404 passed the House and did not receive a floor vote in the Senate.
- HB 565 would increase the TANF asset limit so families could save money and still access TANF benefits. HB 565 did not cross over.
- SB 230 would revise the foster parent bill of rights and includes relative caregivers and fictive kin as having those rights. SB 230 passed the Senate but was not voted on in the House.
- The final budget included:
- $11 million so the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) can hire up to 450 caseworkers to help process Medicaid and SNAP renewals, especially during the Medicaid unwinding, when many people will have to renew Medicaid for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
- HB 380 (which later became HB 237) would authorize sports betting under the Georgia Lottery, which funds Georgia’s Pre-K and HOPE programs. The bill passed the House but did not make it to the Senate floor for a vote. The session saw a number of other sports betting measures introduced but not ultimately passed.
- The FY24 budget included an additional $2,000 for full-time state employees, including those in child-serving agencies like the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) and Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS).
*Following the passage of the FY24 budget by the Georgia legislature, the Governor gave instructions to “disregard” several budget items that were supportive of young children and families. Relevant budget items agencies were directed to disregard included:
- Increased reimbursement rates for Babies Can’t Wait providers. Babies Can’t Wait is Georgia’s early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities.
- An additional $870,000 to include family therapy codes in the Psychological and Therapy Services Medicaid Manual.
- Increased reimbursement rates for primary care and OB-GYN codes.
- $6.33 million to cover the full cost of breakfast and lunch for public school students across the state who qualify for reduced price lunch, including those in public Pre-K.
- $1 million for the Multi-Agency Treatment for Children (MATCH) teams to support collaboration across agencies to meet children’s mental health treatment needs.