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.
I went to the website, this is the first thing I saw:
“Welcome Faith First Schools, Students, Parents and Donors”
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 in any manner agreeable to his own conscience, nor be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall he ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rate, for the building or repairing any place of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or hath voluntarily engaged to do. No one religious society shall ever be established in this state, in preference to another; nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles.”
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.
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.
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?
Is there a link to any public data supporting the numbers this article?
So when Kemp arms the school custodians, would these schools have to comply too?
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.
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 fight we had in Georgia shows just how vicious this fight can become. Education choice won but just barely.
But where is the child in all this?
It is painfully obvious what is best for the child is not even a consideration in this fight. The only consideration is money. Money, money and more money and that is all it’s about. It’s about increasing the size of the “public education industrial complex” only. There are those that don’t want their money to go to “religious” education charter schools or any other religious school but if the child is thriving in that environment what difference does it make? Isn’t this about the child and the desires of the child’s family and not someone’s idea of indoctrination?
What we need is more school choice not less.
I have said in the past if you allow government to issue shoes for everyone in the US everyone would get a size 10. Do you want an educations system that is one size fits all? Where does this leave children that don’t thrive in that environment? Only as unfortunate statistics? We can do better, much better. In Cherokee County the shrill cry that the state was seriously harming public education was loud but what really happened due to new competition the public school system set up more alternate classes and at least started a conversation about more choice in the public school system however not much else. Competition works. It works in the business world, service world, and works in education. If you want to see innovation competition is how you get there.
My choice is clear. Education is a 1st tier issue for me. It is my belief we need more choice not less and anyone who runs on less choice will not get my vote.