You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Lawmakers debate tax credit for school “innovation” fund

House Bill 237 is a companion bill to pay for this year’s school turnaround legislation


Georgia lawmakers are considering a tax credit program that would steer $7 million a year into an “innovation” fund for school improvement, but questions about its constitutionality could derail the measure despite the key role it is supposed to play in improving low-performing schools.

House Bill 237 creates a new funding stream for a foundation controlled by the Governor's Office of Student Achievement, an education agency reporting to Gov. Nathan Deal. The legislation, by Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, establishes a tax credit much like the one that allows taxpayers to contribute to a private school scholarship fund while recouping their entire contribution via a reduction in their taxes owed the state.

The “Public Education Innovation Fund Foundation” would provide competitive grants for school "innovation" efforts, with schools deemed "unacceptable" by GOSA given priority.

The idea is to find models for school improvement that can be replicated across the state.

The tax credits would be capped at $7 million until 2026, when the limit would rise to $10 million.

The bill was wildly popular in the House of Representatives, where it passed by a vote of 165-1 on Feb. 24. It’s been held up in the Senate Finance Committee, where it was tabled last week and remained tabled after a meeting Monday.

Committee member Sen. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, questioned the constitutionality of using tax credits for contributions, even though they’re already in use for the private school scholarship program, which could expand during this legislative session under House Bill 217, and for a new hospital funding program.

Armed with an opinion from legislative counsel, he pointed to a part of the state constitution that says "all revenue collected from taxes, fees, and assessments for state purposes ... shall be paid into the general fund of the state treasury.” The only exception is for agricultural products.

“I believe HB 237 is unconstitutional,” Heath told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a spokeswoman, referring to Coleman’s bill. In regard to HB 217, the scholarship tax credit expansion, he said “this bill amends existing code that is most likely unconstitutional for the same reasons as HB 237. I voted for the original language not knowing at the time that it was likely unconstitutional.”

The Georgia Supreme Court is considering the legality of the scholarship tax credit program, after hearing oral arguments in January in a 2014 lawsuit in Fulton County.

The constitutional issue could influence the success of the school turnaround legislation should it become law.

Coleman, the chairman of the House Education Committee, has described his bill as a crucial companion to House Bill 338, which is backed by Deal and is a follow-up effort to address low-performing schools after voters rejected Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment last year to establish a state-run Opportunity School District.

“It’s critical funding for low-performing schools,” Coleman said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Proposed $2.1 billion Gwinnett school budget to spending on teachers
Proposed $2.1 billion Gwinnett school budget to spending on teachers

Gwinnett County school officials on Saturday unveiled its proposed budget for the next school year, a $2.1 billion plan that would increase pay for all employees, add help for its special education programs and fund rising employee health insurance costs. The budget would increase spending by about 1.8 percent from the current spending plan. Much of...
‘Chronically failing’ schools now Georgia’s ‘first priority’
‘Chronically failing’ schools now Georgia’s ‘first priority’

Georgia lawmakers, conscious of voters’ overwhelming rejection last year of Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed state takeover of “chronically failing” schools, are seeking a kinder and gentler way for the state to intervene. The term of art now, “turnaround,” appears 84 times in House Bill 338, approved by a 2-1 margin...
Bill aims to add Gwinnett school board members to add racial diversity
Bill aims to add Gwinnett school board members to add racial diversity

A Gwinnett County state lawmaker introduced legislation that would expand its school board from five to seven members, an effort to create racial diversity on a governing body which is entirely white. Rep. Pedro Marin, a Democrat from Duluth, introduced the legislation, House Bill 622, Wednesday. Marin proposed similar legislation earlier this month...
Georgia Senate approves amended school turnaround bill
Georgia Senate approves amended school turnaround bill

The Georgia Senate on Friday approved legislation that empowers the state to intervene in the lowest-performing schools. House Bill 338 requires that school districts authorize intervention or face financial consequences associated with the “flexibility” contracts they’ve signed with the Georgia Department of Education. Intervention...
Senate maneuver tries to get HOPE priority into law
Senate maneuver tries to get HOPE priority into law

The Georgia Senate tried a legislative maneuver Friday to get one of their priorities into law. Senate Bill 5 squeezes the Georgia Lottery to produce more proceeds for education programs like the HOPE Scholarship. The bill wasn’t moving in the House of Representatives, so senators attached the legislation as an amendment to House Bill...
More Stories