ATLANTA — Rep. Wayne Howard may have scored a policy victory even though the bill he authored never got a vote in a House subcommittee Tuesday.

The Augusta Democrat’s Too Young to Suspend Act would have prohibited school systems from kicking students out of school younger than the fourth grade except for physical violence.
The Academic Support Subcommittee never planned to vote on the bill, but it scheduled a hearing anyway. Howard recounted how he sponsored the measure after learning that 14,200 children statewide in that age group were suspended last year.

“You can’t them the if they’re not there,” he said.

Lobbyists for the Georgia Association of Educators and the Interfaith Children’s Movement and the Georgia School Superintendents Association spoke in support of the bill.
Senior members of the House Education Committee opposed it, including Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth.

“There are first- and second-(graders) and kindergarteners that need to be out,” he said. “I mean they’re disrupting the class, and what many of the parents are doing, the lawyers told us, is getting them classified as (disabled) where they get special ed and you can’t suspend them. You have to deal with them, and that’s getting to be a bigger problem.”

Vice Chairman Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, objects to the state telling local educators how to discipline children.

Howard’s effort might have died there except for testimony from Deputy State Superintendent of Schools Garry McGiboney who told how the Department of Education has seen discipline problems decrease and student achievement rise where a program called Positive Behaviors Interventions & Support has been tried.

Last year, the legislature funded regional experts to advise local school districts on implementing the program.

He said it has been more successful than the dozens of laws passed each year aimed at student discipline.

“Very few of these (laws) change behavior. They don’t change the behavior of the children, and they usually don’t change the behavior of the adults,” he said.

Coleman promised to take the Education Committee after the legislative session to visit struggling schools that have used the PBIS program. Each of the lobbyists for the advocacy groups praised the program, whether they supported Howard’s bill or opposed it.

By the end of the hearing, Howard said he, too, wanted to know more about the program.

Polly McKinney, lobbyist for Voices for Georgia’s Children, thanked Howard for his bill nonetheless.

“We feel like this conversation might not have happened without this bill,” she said.

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