Over the past two weeks, I have received at least 200 e-mails pertaining to HR 1162 (a proposed constitutional amendment on public education) and its companion legislation, HB 797. The e-mails are split about 50/50, with most of those asking for a "no" vote being from school teachers and most of the "yes" votes coming from parents.
This begs the question: Why does Georgia need a constitutional amendment on public education this year?
A controversial 4-3 Georgia Supreme Court decision last May jeopardized Georgia's ability to establish statewide K-12 public education policy.
Further, the decision also narrowed the state's general ability to authorize public charter schools. The court was silent on how the state maintains charter schools with state funding. Local tax dollars have never been used (despite misstatements by the opposition to the contrary).
The decision calls into question whether state government has any meaningful role in public education other than putting a check in the mail. State taxpayers cover half the cost of K-12 public education through sales and income taxes.
The court decision has placed state taxpayers in the position of taxation without being able to demand accountability from the recipients of state monies.
K-12 education accounts for almost half of the state's $18 billion yearly budget.
The broad court opinion explicitly stated that school boards have exclusive control over general K-12 education.
For emphasis, the opinion restated that local boards have exclusive control six separate times, even though the word "exclusive" does not appear in the state constitution.
Without a constitutional amendment, many laws on the books that teachers and parents rely upon could be subject to successful litigation as pointed out in the Supreme Court's minority opinion, by the Attorney General and the legislature's education attorney.
Most people agree that local school boards play a critical role in public education. Most people also agree, however, that local school boards should not have exclusive control over public education.
The broad court decision deviated sharply from the state's historically significant role in public education, including funding half its costs, establishing graduation standards and providing a teacher pay scale.
Thanks primarily to these state policies, when adjusted for cost of living, Georgia ranks first nationally in teacher salary and benefits.
HR 1162 would re-assert the state's partnership role in public education through a constitutional amendment.
The resolution says: "The General Assembly may ... provide for the establishment of education policies for such public education."
Frankly, HR 1162 would clarify the Constitution in the way most people thought existed prior to the court's action.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee (K-12 Education), I'm very involved in this issue.
Last week marked the halfway point of the 2012 legislative session.
Feb. 17 was legislative day 21 of the 40 days that we are allowed to meet to vote for legislation. That gives us nine more days to work in committees and on the House floor to ensure important legislation makes it through the House before day 30, known as "crossover" day.
Days 31- 40 are used to debate the legislation generated by the other chamber of the General Assembly.
HR 1325 passed out of the House last week.
This resolution urges Congress to repeal an outdated law so that illegal cell phone use can be more easily detected in prisons.
Illegal cell phone use has become a huge problem in Georgia's prisons.
In 2011, the Georgia Department of Corrections confiscated more than 8,500 illegal cell phones. These phones are often used by inmates to initiate attacks against prison guards and coordinate gang activity from behind bars.
Georgia corrections officers have reported that they could dramatically decrease the violence with the use of cellular jammers--devices that prevent cellular phones from receiving signals from base stations.
Unfortunately, prisons are unable to use cellular jammers due to an outdated federal law.
While we cannot change this law ourselves, we can send a strong message to Washington, which we did with HR 1325.
Now that this measure has been approved by the House, this resolution will be considered by the Senate.
Two of my recent Pages were Angel Cain from Lumpkin County and Summer Armstrong from Dawson County. Ladies, I thank you for the magnificent job of distributing the notices and retrieving the Legislators for constituents.
On Saturday, I will be at Ryan's in Dawson County at 8:30 a.m. for my weekly breakfast with constituents.
On March 3 and 10, I will be at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega at 8 a.m. Come join us.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 401 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone (404) 657-8534; fax (404) 463-2044; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.