Georgia lawmakers reject public dollars for private schools


The Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday rejected legislation that for the first time would have allowed any type of student in the state to attend private school with a public tuition subsidy.

Georgia already has such a program for students with disabilities. Another one allows taxpayers to reduce their state tax burden with a contribution to a private school tuition program.

But House Bill 482 would have created the first direct subsidy -- critics called it a “voucher” -- for any student to attend a private school. It would have allowed a limited number of parents to establish a state-funded savings account for educational expenses, including private school tuition.

“Let’s give 4,300 kids a chance at a better education,” said Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, the main sponsor. Rep. Valencia Stovall, D-Forest Park, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying some students, especially those with special needs, could benefit from the option to attend private schools.

But opponents, including organizations representing teachers and school boards, said it would further undermine funding for public schools, which are already underfunded by $167 million.

And lawmakers from both parties rose to oppose the measure when the bill came up for a vote after midnight during a marathon legislative day, the last opporunity to move bills from one chamber of the General Assembly to the other during this session.

Rep. Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, the chairman of the House Education Committee, called it a voucher bill, and urged his colleagues to oppose it “because of the threat” to public education.

The legislation proposed “scholarship” accounts held by parents that would have been funded annually by the amount the state would otherwise have paid the public school the student attended. This amounts to about half of the cost to educate a student, the rest coming from local and federal tax dollars, which would not have followed the student to private school.

Participation was to be capped at a quarter of a percent of total public school enrollment, which is currently about 1.8 million students. That amounts to 4,366 students, and it was a concession.

Cantrell had first proposed a program that would grow over time, the cap rising by a quarter percent of total state enrollment each year. But he agreed to eliminate this “escalator” to get his legislation onto the House floor.

The Department of Audits and Accounts estimated that the legislation would cost as much as $17 million a year. The amount could also be less than $6 million due to uncertainty about how many participants would have attended private school anyway.

“That is a lot of money taken away from public schools,” said Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale. Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, who, like Coleman, is a retired educator, also called it a voucher bill and worried that the cost would grow over time as lawmakers in the future were called on to raise the cap.

Finally, around 1 a.m., lawmakers cast their votes, deciding 60-102 against the bill.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Ga. Senate committee studying Atlanta’s Emory, CDC annexation
Ga. Senate committee studying Atlanta’s Emory, CDC annexation

State legislators hope to end discord between the DeKalb County School District and Atlanta Public Schools over Atlanta’s annexation plans for Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control. The Senate Study Committee on the Financial Impact of Atlanta Annexation on Schools held its first meeting Thursday. Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur...
As assessments soar, taxpayers hope for relief from Atlanta Public Schools
As assessments soar, taxpayers hope for relief from Atlanta Public Schools

Some sticker-shocked homeowners are calling for tax relief after seeing their estimated Atlanta Public Schools taxes on the heels of Fulton County property value hikes. Last year, Fulton County froze residential property values at 2016 levels after complaints about big bumps. This year, property values assessed have gone up significantly to reflect...
Former Savannah St. chief violated harassment policy, report finds
Former Savannah St. chief violated harassment policy, report finds

The conduct of Savannah State University’s former police chief with three female officers violated the school’s sexual harassment policy, according to a state investigative reports released Thursday. The officers said they feared retaliation if they told others about his conduct, the reports say. The most serious allegation was that...
Georgia gets mixed grades for college grad rates of black, Latino students
Georgia gets mixed grades for college grad rates of black, Latino students

Georgia received mixed grades from an organization for its efforts to help African-American and Latino students earn college degrees. The Education Trust released a report Thursday that found African-American and Latino adults are less likely to hold a college degree today than white adults were in 1990. While about 47 percent of white adults...
Will Georgia educators turn their backs on Casey Cagle?
Will Georgia educators turn their backs on Casey Cagle?

The Cagle campaign for governor is in the midst of damage control after Clay Tippins, the fourth-place finisher in the May GOP gubernatorial primary, released a recording of Casey Cagle explaining he promoted a bad education bill to undermine another candidate. A tactic has been to decry the surreptitious recording made by Clay Tippins...
More Stories