Mental Health Day 2023

Back to School Edition

Getting enough sleep during the legislative session can be tough. Even when I’m sleeping, I dream about what happened the day before. This week I had the classic “I forgot to go to class” dream, which made me realize that lately, the legislature has been feeling more like school than a policy making session.

Instead of passing lots of bills (the Senate finally voted our first bill out of the chamber this week), I’ve spent hours in Committee meetings listening to lectures.

Lecture Hall on Literacy

This week and next, two Senate Committees (1) Education & Youth and (2) Higher Education, are meeting together to learn about issues that impact kids across the continuum. This week focused on literacy.

3rd Grade Reading Proficiency: We learned that only 25-30% of Georgia students can read proficiently by the end of third grade and children that can’t are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Of course, this was not news to me. More than twenty years ago, I remember being told the same thing when Governor Roy Barnes mandated smaller class sizes. Those didn’t last long, due to a decade of Republican budget cuts.

Evidence-Based Curriculum: University System of Georgia (USG) Chancellor Sonny Perdue told us that our universities are not adequately preparing future teachers to teach reading. A USG survey found that across the university system, at least 44 different programs are used to prepare teachers to teach reading. Once teachers enter the workforce, they are expected to teach “boxed curricula” programs purchased by their local school districts. The same study found that at least 65 different reading programs are used to teach reading at elementary schools across the state. These programs are not only inconsistent — most are not evidence-based.

Doing My Homework on School Facilities

Behind the scenes, I’ve been digging into the issue of aging school facilities. How do we ensure school building safety, and does the state have a role in holding school systems accountable?

Putting out the Fire: What I’ve learned is that the Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s office inspects schools for fire safety in small, rural school districts, but large metro area school districts use their own Fire Marshal.

Cleaning Up the Lunchroom: County Boards of Health inspect school cafeterias, but not other areas like bathrooms.

Department of Education: I learned that the DOE’s role is to require local districts to submit a five-year facilities plan. But beyond that, nothing gets inspected unless someone complains loud enough.

Bottom line, no one is in charge of inspecting school buildings and there is no real accountability for school districts that fail to maintain their facilities.

Simply put, I don’t think this is adequate, and the government is not doing its job. I will keep pushing.

Touting Technical School Education

You might remember that the Georgia Senate appropriated $4 million in the budget last year to help build an extension of Georgia Piedmont Technical College in north DeKalb, but the Governor vetoed the funds. I’m still working to get this done.

This week I spent two mornings in Doraville addressing technical school education. It’s too early to say, but when conversations among a city, a transit agency, a private developer, and a technical school system start happening, it begins to look like progress! Friday morning, I was able to greet Senator Jon Ossoff, pitching the plan to him and asking for his support. Stay tuned!

Alphabet Soup: Putting the DD back in DBHDD

I know. That’s a lot of letters!

The first “D” stands for Department. The “BH” is Behavioral Health. And finally, the “DD” is for Developmental Disabilities.

Due to the efforts of the late Speaker David Ralston, the legislature has taken huge steps forward ensuring Georgians have access to mental health services. But not as much attention has been paid to the 7,000 individuals living with developmental disabilities who have been on a waiting list for services for years. Last year I sponsored SR 770 which created a Study Committee on these issues. We traveled all over the state, hearing horrific stories of overwhelmed families unable to access services.

This week I met with Georgia DBHDD Commissioner Kevin Tanner. My assignment is to map out the structure for a Developmental Disabilities Commission, much like the Behavioral Health Commission that has generated much needed improvements to Georgia’s mental health system. I give Commissioner Tanner an “A” for effort. He came to our meeting loaded with wise advice.

Confronting Old School Sexism on The ERA

When I first joined the Senate in 2019, I co-sponsored a bill to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). At the time, after Democrats gained control of Congress, there was a renewed push across the county for states that hadn’t yet ratified the ERA to do so. I was hopeful that Georgia could do it and we even had some bipartisan support. But the anti-abortion advocates got wind of the effort and convinced Republicans to vote no because the ERA could give women legal standing to challenge anti-abortion laws. The resolution failed once it got to the Senate floor.

With abortion essentially banned in Georgia, I had renewed hope that we could be successful this year. I filed the resolution this week, but once I started talking to my Republican colleagues who seemed open to it back in 2019, I got lots of excuses. “It’s not needed, everything’s fine,” was a common refrain. Of course women know otherwise. The wage gap, sexual harassment, and violence against women persists in Georgia.

Penmanship & Postcard Advocacy

I know it can be frustrating to continuously hear excuses from lawmakers on issues of equality. This week I met with a group of women from my church who wanted feedback about the most effective way of voicing their concerns to legislators. We decided on old-fashioned postcards and they are now planning to host some postcard writing gatherings. Be sure to read future “Snapshots” to get ideas about what to write legislators about at your own postcard parties! This week you can start with why we still need an Equal Rights Amendment.

Future Assignments & Projects: Thursday night, February 9th, I’ll be on GPB’s Lawmaker Program (that’s on TV, 7pm). Please tune in, or watch online at!

Next week begins with Legislative Day 13, which means we’re already halfway to Cross-Over Day — the day a bill must pass the Senate to be considered by the House. Bills that don’t make it out by Cross-Over Day can still be considered next year. Sine Die is scheduled for March 29th. Spring Break is on its way!

Mental Health Day 2023

It was a privilege to speak at Mental Health Awareness Day at the Capitol. Over 1,000 people from across Georgia in support of “The Year of the Peer” as we address Behavioral Health policy.