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Sweeping School-Reform Bill Sails Through Georgia Legislature

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The Georgia legislature has passed Gov. Joe Frank Harris's sweeping education-reform act without a dissenting vote. The lack of controversy was surprising to many legislators, who had anticipated that it would be the hottest topic of 1985.

The Quality Basic Education Act, to be phased in over four years, will cost in excess of $231 million next year, bringing the total education budget to more than $2 billion. By 1990, it is expected to cost some $700-million, "and certainly could exceed that," according to Norman Moye, a policy analyst with the legislative educational-research council.

Provisions

The act includes state-supported, mandatory, full-day kindergarten; the development of a statewide core curriculum; a new formula for state aid to local school systems; a 10-percent increase in salaries for classroom teachers; and a 17-percent increase in salaries for school administrators.

It is based largely on the recommendations of the Governor's Education Review Commission, which submitted its report in November. Governor Harris said in his state-of-the-state address that passage of the reform act was his chief goal for this legislative session.

'Strive Toward Quality'

The bill passed in the Senate on Feb. 11 by a vote of 53-0 and in the House on Feb. 22 by a vote of 175-0. A joint committee of the legislature will iron out differences in the two versions of the bill this month. One difference is that the Senate bill authorizes the state board of education to require teachers to pass subject-matter tests and performance evaluations to be recertified, and the House bill does not.

Georgia now joins the list of Southern states--including Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee--that have passed sweeping school-reform bills in the last few years.

Senator John C. Foster, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said that with the bill's passage, Georgia "will leave behind the concept of minimum or adequate education and strive toward quality education. Apathy toward educational excellence can no longer be part of Georgia."

Career Ladder Planned

In addition to an across-the-board salary increase for teachers, the bill changes their salaries and certification rules by:

Increasing the salary for beginning teachers from $14,329 to $16,000 next year, so that they earn salaries comparable to those of other graduates of Georgia's university system.

Directing the state board of education to devise a career ladder for teachers and career-development incentives for administrators that will include salary supplements funded by the state.

Limiting teaching certificates to five years, except for teachers who now hold lifetime certificates (now some 56 percent of the teaching force). After five years, teachers would have to pass subject-matter tests and performance assessments to have their licenses renewed, according to the Senate version of the bill.

Subjecting all school employees, including superintendents, to annual performance evaluations.

New Funding Formula

The act also revises the state-aid formula to provide funding on a per-pupil basis, according to the student's grade level and particular needs. And it requires each district to contribute the equivalent of a 5-mill property-tax rate to education, with additional state funds provided to poor districts that exceed 5 mills.

In addition, it calls for teams of citizens, professors from teacher-training institutions, and educators from other school systems to conduct comprehensive evaluations of each public school and each local school system at least once every five years.

But some of the biggest changes come in the areas of curriculum and testing. The new law:

Requires all local school systems to offer a full-day kindergarten program beginning in 1987-88. The state will provide full funding for the program.

Requires the state board to adopt a school-readiness assessment, to be administered to students at least once during kindergarten or early in the 1st grade.

Requires the board to establish competencies that each student must master to graduate and to adopt a statewide core curriculum for grades K-12 based on those competencies.

Authorizes the state board to create a remedial-education program for students, with an emphasis on the elementary grades. The Senate bill also creates a special instructional-assistance program for students who do not qualify for remedial education yet need additional help.

Authorizes the state board to create an in-school suspension program as a "preferable" alternative to suspending or expelling disruptive students.

Requires increased testing of students in grades 1-12 using both criterion- and norm-referenced tests. Students would be tested in reading, writing, mathematics, and other subject areas.

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