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Gov. Kemp signs controversial education bills into law

The Georgia governor signed several controversial education bills into law, including ones on banning books and discussing race in the classroom.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has of signed a slew of education bills into law Thursday morning — with a number of them stirring controversy.

During an event at the Forsyth County Arts Learning Center, Kemp joined his family, lawmakers, and students to sign the bills.

"We put students and parents first by putting woke politics out the classroom and off the ball field," Kemp said.

Bills that include empowering the state school athletic association to exclude transgender athletes, banning books, and censorship and race, were all signed into law.

"We weren't elected by the people of this state to shy away from doing what some may call controversial," he said. 

Many of the bills have been met with great opposition, with the signing signifying a loss for Georgia Democrats.

HB 1084, one of the most contentious bills Kemp signed on Thursday, restricts how grade school teachers can discuss race in the classroom. Kemp and other Republicans claim the bill bans the teaching of "divisive" concepts.

That same bill authorizes the Georgia High School Association to ban trans kids in sports. A move Kemp said was in effort to "protect fairness."

"There are those outside our state, and others of the general assembly who chose partisan politics over common sense reforms for our students as well as our parents," Kemp continued.

Educators and activists say the legislation doesn't just eliminate elements of the African American experience, but others too.

"They attack the stories that we can tell from underrepresented or marginalized backgrounds and they continue to allow our schools to tell false narratives about our history as a country as a state and as a world," Africana Studies high school teacher Anthony Downer told 11Alive back in February.

Also signed on Thursday was SB 226, another piece of legislation that has brought controversy in the general assembly. The bill forces public schools to respond to challenges of materials parents consider "obscene." 

Many opponents claim the bill targets books that are "authored by people of color, or address topics that are relevant to race, gender, identity, religion or the Holocaust," Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat running for secretary of state said.

The governor signed HB 588 Thursday as well. Kemp said this bill ensures "local school board meetings are transparent," by requiring school district board meetings be open to the public unless otherwise states by the law.

"So that every parent knows about their child's education when it's being discussed and decided," Kemp continued. 

A bill meant to remedy a scarcity of teachers across the state is now signed into law, too.

With HB 385's passage, public school teachers who have 30 years of experience and have been retired for at least a year would be able to return to public school classrooms in Georgia and earn a full teacher's salary plus their pension. It's an effort to bring back the workforce amid a wave of educators leaving the profession. 

HB 517, another legislation signed, increases the tax credits available for private school scholarship organizations from $100 million to $120 million.

"So they can attend the school that best fits their needs," Kemp said. 

SB 220 ensures financial literacy ⁠— including the "importance of good credit and how to budget properly" ⁠— is taught in schools across the state, according to Kemp. 

He said the bill was created so students "can be better prepared for the world beyond the classroom."

The Democratic Party of Georgia issued a statement just hours after the signing, saying some of the new laws will "will pit parents against teachers, attack educators, politicize Georgia schools, and jeopardize kids’ education – all for Kemp’s own political gain."

The organization alleges the newly signed legislation is about politics.

"From the moves to censor what’s taught in classrooms, to the efforts to make it easier to ban books and to attack the parent-teacher partnership, it’s clear that for Kemp, this is about politics and inserting a partisan agenda into our classrooms," Elaine Padgett, a Forsyth County parent running for the local Board of Education, wrote in the statement.