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Interview with Georgia State Senator Elena Parent

On April 27, 2023, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 86 into law.
It makes several changes to the state’s Dual Enrollment program. Among them were proposals increasing data transparency that had long been advocated by State Senator Elena Parent. She had originally introduced SB 52 to lay out those proposed changes, but in committee, SB 52 was attached to SB 86.  All4Ed spoke with Sen. Parent about the process of moving a proposed change from an idea into law.

In 2020, you introduced your first bill on data transparency. What led you to do that?

Georgia has had a strong Dual Enrollment program since the early 1990s. It has allowed high school students to take dual enrollment courses at any institution, public or private. But the popularity of the program led to massive growth and dramatically increasing costs. In 2018, the budget had an appropriation of $49 million for the program, but costs were approaching $108 million, with no end in sight. 

The General Assembly had to cut costs, but it was hard to evaluate what was and was not working. The law authorizing the program did not spell out any goals for Dual Enrollment. There was no data collected to measure the program’s success. My concern was that budget decisions would be made using a sledgehammer rather than a scalpel. 

In 2019, the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute released a report on the Dual Enrollment Program. It found, for example, that the fastest growth in Dual Enrollment classes was for courses that were neither core academics (such as math or English) nor technical courses. 

So in the 2020 legislative session, I introduced my first data transparency bill, Senate Bill 400 to address those concerns. It would have required better data reporting on program participation and outcomes. 

 What happened to that bill? 

The bill was reported out of committee, but it was tabled when the legislature adjourned. (Note: In 2020, the legislature adjourned early because of COVID.) Still, the bill had gained some interest and attention. Clearly, there was growing interest in strengthening the program without letting costs spin out of control.

What motivated you to keep working on the idea?

As a legislator, you learn quickly that if you want to make any change, you will probably need to introduce a bill several times. So over the next few years, I kept working on the idea of strengthening data collection for Dual Enrollment.

In 2023, an opportunity presented itself when SB 175 created a Joint Study Committee to look at Dual Enrollment. It was clear that the legislature would be paying attention to dual enrollment issues. I introduced SB 52, which reflected the research I had been doing on DE. 

The new Chair of the Senate Education Committee knew that I had a real interest in the issue. He did me a favor by scheduling the hearing for my bill at the same time as the committee was hearing SB 86. It was designed to address a different issue with the Dual Enrollment program, allowing students to use Hope Scholarship funding for certain career and technical education courses. But it addressed changes to Dual Enrollment, and it was sponsored by the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee [Sen. Matt Brass], a Republican.

Because I am a member of the minority caucus, and especially in a leadership role, my legislation always has something of a target on it. So to get anything done, I was willing to give up the ownership of the bill in order to get the policy in place. Besides, if you have a good idea, it doesn’t always have to be partisan. 

What parts of your original legislation stayed in the new SB 86? What did you have to give up as part of the compromise?

The rules for “attaching” one bill to another were somewhat limiting. Less than 50% of the combined bill, for example, could contain the language of the bill that was attached. 

The new wording will collect valuable information on which students are enrolling in DE classes, what they are studying, and how they are doing. It will determine whether there is a correlation between enrollment in DE and eventual college completion. It will also measure whether students are entering high-demand fields [the legislation requires tracking the  “number of students employed in a high-demand field after completing a focused program of study identified by the State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia as part of the High-demand Career Initiatives Program.”] 

SB 86 doesn’t call for collecting or tracking demographic information. So we don’t know if low-income students or students of color or female students are enrolling in DE at the same rate as other students.  

But I have some thoughts on that. For example, we might track the numbers of students in urban, suburban, and rural schools who enroll in DE. We do have serious issues of rural poverty in Georgia, and this would be one way to open up that discussion. 

I’ve worked on this issue a long time. I’ll keep working on it.

Much of the data collection in the bill is assigned to the Georgia Student Finance Corporation. How did you get them on board? 

In politics, so much is based on personal relationships. I reached out to a member of the GSFC who had formerly been on the Georgia State Board of Education. He was a great ally and partner. 

It’s good to have this information being collected. In the end, it will help the General Assembly make better decisions about how to support students in preparing for college and career.

State Senator Elena Parent was elected to the State Senate in 2014. She represents District 42, which includes portions of central and north DeKalb County. Stay connected by following her on Twitter at @elenaparent.