23 June 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for our state to adopt a more modern approach in education delivery methods to students. In 2015, I wrote and passed legislation that, in its original form, would have required local school systems to ensure that all purchased textbooks or educational instruction materials be available in a digital format. In addition, it provided use of the textbook fund in a digital format and encouraged all school systems to be provided laptops or tablets to use for homework or distance learning.
The Digital Classroom Act was signed into law along with budget and logistics work to connect all schools in the state with high speed internet access. Local school systems were urged to adopt these policies within five years, with the deadline being July 1, 2020, and SPLOST monies or textbook funds could be utilized to help. While not every school system was able to meet the deadline, innovative approaches were used to introduce digital classrooms to their students. Now, more than ever, we need to implement these standards 100% statewide.
When I first wrote the Digital Classroom Act, we could not have predicted a pandemic. My initiative was to prepare students for the future and level the playing field. I believe technology is the great equalizer for all students regardless of socioeconomics or geographic location. We have a legal and moral duty to provide a quality education to every student.
Fulton County Schools, led by Dr. Mike Looney and innovative school board members, demonstrated tremendous leadership by embracing these solutions and making them a priority in the budget. Teachers did a phenomenal, creative, and inspiring job making the transition to help students from afar. Many would agree that we don’t pay teachers enough, and I am committed to continue to fully fund education and teacher salary increases. We also need to provide additional educator training to fulfill a hybrid model of in-person and online schooling.
We only have about a month to prepare for the new school year. While the future is uncertain, we should take this time to consider the urgency of creating plans to ensure that Georgia’s students continue to receive a quality education, both this year and in years to come.