Education Alternative On Ballot In Georgia Governor’s Race

This week’s Courier Herald column:
 
 
The issue at hand that most directly led to the matchup at the top of Georgia’s ballot next week is education.  Specifically, it is the funding through tax credits of Georgia’s Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) and two former candidates’ actions.
 
Clay Tippins, a political newcomer who ran in Georgia’s Republican primary for Governor, taped Lt. Governor Casey Cagle in a conversation over Cagle’s support to expand the maximum amount that can be donated to SSOs in Georgia per year.  The backlash seemed to freeze the Cagle team while Kemp used the vacuum to consolidate support during the runoff, with President Trump’s endorsement sealing the deal for Kemp’s nomination.
 
Little has been said from the Republican side about SSO’s since, though supporters of various school choice programs have largely aligned behind Kemp.  That’s largely because Democratic Nominee Abrams isn’t exactly a fan of school choice. 

In fact, Abrams has a long history of opposing any sort of school choice. She opposed the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship program, which now allows 4,500 students with special needs to attend a school that better works for them through a voucher worth up to the cost of the educational program that a student would have received in public school. Abrams has been a consistent voice in opposition to charter schools and has voted against nearly every charter school bill. in fact, during this campaign for Governor, she’s noted her opposition to the State Charter School Commission and the charter amendment in 2012. When the Georgia Charter Schools Association sent out a questionnaire to all Governor, Lieutenant Governor and School Superintendent candidates, Abrams is the only nominee to decline to publicly state her position on public charter schools. 
 
When it comes to the popular Student Scholarship Program, Abrams message is blunt.  She has pledged to eliminate the program.   She claims they divert public funds to vouchers to attend private schools. 
 
Yes, but no.  There’s a lot more to this story, and the math is in the state’s, the local school districts’, the parents’, and the taxpayers’ favor.
 
SSO’s are funded through donations for which individuals and corporations receive a full credit against their state income taxes for their donations.  These funds then provide scholarships for students to attend private schools, with an average scholarship in the range of $4,000.
 
Abrams and critics want you to see the $4,000 as money taken from public schools.  They would prefer that you not also think about the average per pupil spending in a Georgia Public School is north of $9,500.  No money for SSOs is deducted from either local tax revenues paid by property taxes or E-SPLOSTs.  All of that money remains in the local system, which is then divided by even fewer students. 
 
That means more tax dollars per student for those that remain in the public schools. A recent non-partisan study of Florida’s similar system estimates that the state saved about $1.49 for every dollar donated to a Student Scholarship Organization.
 
Most of the private schools involved offer tuition assistance and additional scholarships to low income students.  The money donated to SSO’s is often leveraged with other funds to provide a free or ultra-low cost education alternative to families whose alternative is to remain trapped in a failing school.
 
Opponents also would have you believe that these scholarships are sending privileged kids to elite schools that would be attending private schools anyway.  The reality is that the vast majority of scholarship recipients are low or middle income. For the dollars involved are more suited to schools like Atlanta’s Christo Rey – a Jesuit school with a student body comprised with 96% students of color and has an average family income of $35,000. Because of the Student Scholarship Program and their financial aid model, it only costs the student’s family between $350 to $2,500 per year.
 
Currently, over 14,000 Georgia students are using these Student Scholarships to escape a school that didn’t meet their needs but would be their only education alternative were it not for this tax credit program.  Stacey Abrams pledges to end this program, take away this option, and return these students to schools that are failing, where the student was being bullied, or that simply didn’t work for them.
 
The decision to focus exclusively on a bureaucracy-centered education model is not what is best for taxpayers.  It’s certainly not what is best for a family when they are told their “free” public education is only available at a substandard school down the street. 

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armanidog
armanidog
1 year ago

Currently, over 14,000 Georgia students are using these Student Scholarships to escape a school that didn’t meet their needs but would be their only education alternative were it not for this tax credit program. I went to the website, this is the first thing I saw: “Welcome Faith First Schools, Students, Parents and Donors” http://www.georgiasso.us/ So basically supporting church schools. What happened to separation of church and state? ” In 1789 the Georgia Constitution was amended as follows: “Article IV. Section 10. No person within this state shall, upon any pretense, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping God… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago

My issue is I can not control where my donated dollars to the SSO will end up. I refuse to donate money to a school that will teach it’s students religious values I personally do not believe in, or in some cases, to distain my own. Instead, I donate money and time directly to the private and public schools of my choice.

Will Durant
Will Durant
1 year ago

I don’t care how you slice it. It is public tax dollars being shunted to private, mostly religious organizations.

On top of this, a Democrat elected governor with a Republican super majority legislature wouldn’t be able to touch it anyway.

bethebalance
bethebalance
1 year ago

Yeah, the economic argument doesn’t get to the religious issue.
If the private schools were guaranteed to be non-sectarian, and the scholarships were 100% means-tested, I’d feel differently.
I do care deeply about students with special needs, however, and schools do need more resources. Why not give tax breaks for donations to dedicated public school funds which funds get distributed to public schools with such needs?

FreeDuck
FreeDuck
1 year ago

Is there a link to any public data supporting the numbers this article?

Benevolus
Benevolus
1 year ago

So when Kemp arms the school custodians, would these schools have to comply too?

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse
1 year ago

A 100% scholarship tax credit, just as the 100% rural hospital tax credit, is bad public policy.

I only want to pay for the nuclear weapons that my family will use personally.

Raleigh
Raleigh
1 year ago

Does this surprise anyone? Eisenhower in his farewell speech warned us against the “military-industrial complex”. He was worried it would exert undue influence on public policy. Has it? Maybe somewhat but he totally missed a much larger and much more influential group I call it the “public education industrial complex.” Its influence is far greater than any other group in the country and it is by far the largest employer in the US. Public educations influence was and is brought to bear to suppress any form of public funds being used for anything other than public schools. The charter schools… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus
1 year ago
Reply to  Raleigh

what is best for the child is not even a consideration in this fight.
Not true. The battle is between those that say “what is best for my child” and those that say “what is best for all children” (in other words, when your child gets the best, what happens to the ones left behind?)

I am very sympathetic to parents who want the best for their kids. But this issue has two parts and any solution that only tries to deal with one part is not the correct solution.

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

ACP, this was easy to Google, and completely negates your statement… “Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass. Meanwhile,… Read more »

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

I’m not misreading your comment. I’m just not making assumptions to what you mean as opposed to what you have written. You clearly stated that “There is no “public education industrial complex” because public education is not an industry. There is no “profit” to be made from public education.” But, you also just stated “the goal is to educate children, not fill an endowment or exact a return on investment.”… isn’t the education of a child that will go out into other industries, or even the industry of education, a return on investment. Will their tax dollars not return to… Read more »

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

That’s the problem with people making blanket statements about things not existing, when there is opposing information stating that in fact, that it does exist. It’s easy to get nitpicky at that point.

What people mean to say, and what they actually say are an issue when people try not to assume about their motives or understanding of subjects.

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

But, not to nitpick, but this statement is just as ignorant: “‘Competition’ may work in the business world, but it doesn’t work in education.”

Maybe you haven’t been exposed to the private schools of Atlanta that charge in excess of $25k a year for education. Waiting lists, exceptional academics and athletics… competition amongst these institutions have created some amazing programs to educate children (in both academics and worldly matters), as well as added to communities that they do outreach to through volunteering.

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

“and have the Catbacker stickers” that explains a lot… so, if competition does not work in education why did you send your children to Westminister and pay a severe premium rather than Lovett, Pace, or Woodward?

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

So, either you went Westminster because your parents saw it as a competitive edge for you and you donate because you are alumni, or you currently send money there because you wish your children to go there for the same competitive edge and by donating you will get preferred placement… right?

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

So, you don’t believe that the presence of Westminster, Lovett, Pace, and Trinity had anything to do with the new North Atlanta campus and the quality of classes being offered there compared to other schools in the City of Atlanta? You don’t think that the private schools have caused the public schools in the area to step up their game in order to keep some of the students that could go either way? Does this competition for those students not help the students already in these public schools?

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

Subjective, but from the mouths of Principal Howard and others the NYT interviewed: “He and other educators say that the new school building is an opportunity to show that a large, urban public high school can be a viable alternative to the rising tide of charter schools, voucher systems and private education. The goal is to move the school from its graduation rate of about 61 percent — a rate so low it helped lead to the ouster of top administrators last fall — to 90 percent. The amenities should help. There are a performing arts complex, a broadcast and… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

Isn’t the essential question “Why (in theory) do charter schools work? ” If it works, why can’t we do that system-wide?

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Benevolus

Some System do… You can have a charter system under state law.

TheDeepDark
Admin
TheDeepDark
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

They have increased the graduation rate to nearly 93% since opening, in 2015 it was 81.5%, and in 2012 (the year before it opened) it was 61%. I’d say that is quite an achievement. In 2014 their AP students scored three or higher on 61% of the tests taken (5% than the state average). They also administered 383 tests that year, up from 77 in 2013. There were gains in 7 out of 8 testing areas. These are achievements. The recognized IB program nationwide did not start until 1968, and it started in 1982 in North Fulton, which was later… Read more »

Benevolus
Benevolus
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

This whole argument seems to have gone into the weeds. Picking between a private school in a wealthy neighborhood and a public school in that wealthy neighborhood isn’t really where the problem is. There, you have parents with resources, and organization, and motivation, and expectations. There are ways to make improvements because there are resources. Besides, most of the worst performing APS schools are elementaries. My belief is that they struggle because: The parents have little resources. These kids don’t get private music lessons, or math tutoring, or software and kits to compete in the Science Olympiad. Many of these… Read more »

FreeDuck
FreeDuck
1 year ago
Reply to  Benevolus

Yeah, to look at Buckhead schools compared to the rest of the city and ask “what do these schools have that the others do not?” and come up with “school choice” as the answer is to miss the very big boulder in front of you. Those schools have money (through PTA and foundations) that other schools don’t have because the parents who live there have money. The kids who go to those schools have resources because their parents have resources. IMO good schools come down to two major things — money and good leadership. You need the first to get… Read more »

FreeDuck
FreeDuck
1 year ago
Reply to  TheDeepDark

“So, you don’t believe that the presence of Westminster, Lovett, Pace, and Trinity had anything to do with the new North Atlanta campus and the quality of classes being offered there compared to other schools in the City of Atlanta? ” How long have Westminster, Lovett, Pace and Trinity been there? A long ass time to be making any connection between their existence and any recent improvements. I think any improvements to NAHS have more to do with district wide efforts and the general wealth of the district. Also North Atlanta is not the only cluster in APS that offers… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

I resemble this comment. As I have mentioned a few times before, most of my clients are tax payer funded entities. I literally figure out how the client can spend a specific set of line items in their yearly and five year budgets – ALL funded by your taxpayer funded dollars and SPLOST (County, Education, Transportation etc….) income so the client can get the best bang for their bucks. I do this for private clients also.

FreeDuck
FreeDuck
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

It would probably work better to just provide your counter example or explain why you think it’s ignorant. The examples above of for-profit companies providing standardized tests and text books are good examples. IMO they miss the point, but still good examples.

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Charlie

As a semi-related side note to the topic, could you do a posting on the ESPLOST amendment on next weeks ballet. If I was (and might still be) confused over the wording vs. actual intent, so will others.

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Raleigh

Raleigh,

Why is Education a 1st tier issue in your world and what do you do personally to help the issue? (I’m not being snarky, that is real actual question)

Raleigh
Raleigh
1 year ago
Reply to  Ellynn

An actually question? Wow sure I’ll answer. Our kids are our future I’ve been watching Public education since I was in the program here in North Georgia. My kids were in the PE system and now my grandkids. I can tell you from what I’ve seen it as we say in the south ain’t was it was when I attended school. What did I do to help. I was a vocational advisor representing my trade to students for several years in Cherokee until Dr.P eliminated the program. Through work I volunteered with JA (Junior Achievement) with an adopted school. Working… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Raleigh

Thanks for the reply. For me, I find your answers relative, for it establishes where your point of view is coming from and your priority for education. All of us here come from different experiences and or perspectives. Knowing a little about why the state of education makes you angry tells me and other know why its important to you. As I have noted a little higher in these replies and in other posts, through my profession I see Education not as a parent but as an invited guest of a school systems (private and public) looking out into the… Read more »

Raleigh
Raleigh
1 year ago
Reply to  Ellynn

Join the discussion… Ellynn, Looks like my post had the desired affect and generated conversation. I hear you, my post did single out Public education as a whole but to give you a little bit more of my perspective I have always said get the administration and the bureaucracy out of the way of teachers teaching. I know that’s a broad statement but I feel it is a true statement. Yes, we need ways of measuring performance and progress but we should let teachers rule their classrooms to a large degree. They are the one with the most intimate knowledge… Read more »

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