Education

Metro Atlanta School Districts Develop Legislative Priorities Ahead Of 2021 Session

Some issues, like protecting the Teachers’ Retirement System, are prioritized by metro Atlanta districts and other education groups most years on their legislative lists. The Georgia General Assembly convenes next month for the 2021 session.
Some issues, like protecting the Teachers’ Retirement System, are prioritized by metro Atlanta districts and other education groups most years on their legislative lists. The Georgia General Assembly convenes next month for the 2021 session.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press file
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Some metro Atlanta school districts have come up with their lists of legislative priorities before the General Assembly convenes next month for the 2021 session.

Some issues, like protecting the Teachers’ Retirement System, are prioritized by districts and other education groups most years. Sustaining TRS made the Cobb County School District’s list this year. Superintendent Christopher Ragsdale, who used to serve as the district’s chief technology officer, said the pension system is a great recruiting tool.

“The technology division we have in this district compares to Fortune 500 companies in both numbers and skill,” Ragsdale said at a November school board meeting. “We would not be able to get those employees without the certain benefits that we can offer them, and Teachers’ Retirement System is one of them.”

Ragsdale said another big issue for the district is strengthening the teacher pipeline, especially post-pandemic.

“We have no other time that supply and demand of teachers has ever been at a more critical juncture because it can literally go one of two ways: it can continue to go down … or it can go up,” he said.

For Gwinnett County Public Schools, factoring in pandemic-related budget losses is a top priority.

“We’re going to ask the Gwinnett delegates to consider that when they’re ending the 2021 budget and developing the ’22 budget, they remember that, due to the pandemic, all school systems, especially Gwinnett, have had costs associated with the pandemic … and we’re going to ask them to consider that in their funding formula,” said Jorge Gomez, the district’s executive director of administration and policy.

Gwinnett will also ask the Legislature to extend the governance flexibility it afforded school districts last spring when the pandemic hit.

Clayton County Public Schools has some common priorities, like testing flexibility and fully funding the Quality Basic Education (QBE) school funding formula. The district would also like the county to benefit from tax revenues generated by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. District officials point to Fulton County’s ability to receive money from the airport due to a lower threshold for certain tax options.

Atlanta Public Schools has several pandemic-related priorities, including supporting kids and families affected by COVID-19. The district would also like lawmakers to restrict the issuance of tax abatements to projects that wouldn’t be developed otherwise. Like Cobb, APS wants to strengthen the teacher pipeline, especially efforts to recruit and retain male teachers of color.

Officials with Fulton County Schools are still developing their priorities, but have discussed issues like reducing mandated testing, fully funding QBE and changing some tax rules that would let the district borrow and pay back money on a more flexible timetable.

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