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Leveling education playing field
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It seems like only last week the 2008 legislative session got under way and here we are now in February. Our committee work on the amended fiscal year 2008 Budget is now complete and we are ready to move forward with our proposals.

On the House floor last week, we expanded the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan, changed the dates allowed for special elections to increase participation, and officially recognized Feb. 12 as “Georgia’s birthday.”

As legislators, our one constitutional obligation is to provide a budget for the state of Georgia. I have worked many hours with my colleagues to ensure that we employ conservative fiscal principles to this process.

We were presented a budget that used an “income factor” inconsistent with current education funding mechanisms as a basis to reduce education equalization grants to schools across Georgia. These grants are critical because they narrow the funding gap between school systems by providing additional dollars for low-wealth systems. Effingham County was one of 16 school systems that would have actually received fewer education dollars next year.  

This was unacceptable to the House and in the amended FY 08 budget, we were able to restore $30.7 million to fully fund equalization grants to our schools. There will always be differences of opinion among elected leaders as to how tax dollars can best be spent, but the members of the Georgia House remain steadfastly committed to funding education in Georgia.

House Bill 1014 is a win-win for grandparents and their college bound grandchildren. We expanded the Georgia Higher Education Savings Plan to allow grandparents to make tax deductible donations to qualified 529 college savings plans. 

Special elections in Georgia to approve local tax increases for specific projects have historically been held on various dates throughout the year often with low turnout. By stipulating special elections to present a question to voters, such as to approve a local option penny sales tax, must be held on the primary or general elections dates, House Bill 296 will hopefully increase turnout for these important ballot questions.

On a lighter note, the House did adopt House Bill 387 officially recognizing Feb. 12 – “Georgia Day” — as the anniversary of the landing of General Oglethorpe and the first colonists in Georgia. Without the bravery and wisdom of these early Georgians, that once small colony would not have become our now great state.

I will continue to keep you up to date on our actions as the legislative session progresses.  As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at my Capitol office at (404) 656-0213.