Guest Post: Rep. Cantrell on The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act (HB 301)

From Rep. Wes Cantrell (R, 22 – Woodstock):

I believe in and fully support public education. I am a product of Georgia public schools, and I am a former Georgia public school teacher. My grandparents were Georgia public school educators. My mother served on the Georgia State Board of Education in the 1980s. My son is a public school teacher in Cherokee county and my daughter in law is a public school educator in Cobb county. If I had not sensed a calling into ministry, I am confident I would have spent my entire adult life as a public school educator. The county in which I reside has one of if not the best public school system in our state. Public school teachers are the best people on the planet. They are my heroes!

In 1998, my wife and I were part of a team that founded the first hybrid school in Georgia, The Kings Academy. This hybrid school has met the needs of hundreds of families as a unique way to educate your children with a high level of parental involvement. 20 years later, Kings is thriving as a SACS accredited school with almost 1000 students.

Here’s what I know: Even the best schools, public or private, cannot address the needs of every student. Children are unique.  We must find ways to meet a child’s unique educational needs by encouraging parental involvement and empowering them with more flexible choices. There will always be a small percentage of students who need a personalized education plan. This is what The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act is all about.

What is an Educational Scholarship Account?

This is an account administered by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement on behalf of a participating student which can be used strictly for educational purposes approved by this act. The annual contribution to this account will be 100% of the state portion designated toward that student’s education.

How does this bill affect public schools?

Research shows that public schools benefit in states that support educational choice. The academic achievement increases in the public schools. It results in a more diverse population in all schools. The local school system continues to receive the local portion of that student’s funding as well as any federal contribution (47% of the total spent). As a result, per student funding actually increases as a result of this act.

How many students may participate?

One half of one percent of total public school enrollment (around 8400 students). This number will escalate each year at .5% until it reaches a cap of 5% which will take 10 years.

Who qualifies? (priority is given to the first 5 categories)

  1. Students with a family income below 200% of the federal poverty level (@$50,000) who are currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.
  2. Students adopted from foster care.
  3. Students whose parent(s) is an active duty military service member.
  4. Students with a disability and an IEP who are currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.
  5. Students who have a documented case of being bullied who are currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.
  6. Students who spent the previous year enrolled in a Ga Public School. (priority on first 5)

What about accountability?

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement will provide oversight. Funding is made available to qualifying students through on online portal of pre-approved vendors (private schools, tutors, therapists, textbooks, etc.), so the money never touches the families’ hands. The funding from the ESA is transmitted directly from the state to the approved vendor. If a student wishes to use a provider who is not on the pre-approved list, the family must make payment out of pocket and then submit receipts for reimbursement. The Parent Review Committee will review the receipts and if they determine that is was an approved educational expense, the cost will be reimbursed to the family.

Additonally, students in the program are tested to measure the effectiveness of the program and an annual report of the program’s effectiveness is generated.

How much will it cost?

Since there is a requirement of pre-enrollment in public school for a student to be eligible with the exception of active military and those adopted from foster care, the cost will be minimal since the state has already budgeted for and is paying for the education of these students. Additionally, studies like this one (https://www.georgiapolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/190227IASchoolchoicefinal-min.pdfshow that in Georgia funding for public schools actually increase when a student leaves to use an ESA. For example, in Cherokee county where I live, the Marginal Cost per student in public school is $8518. The ESA would be valued at the state portion which is $4682 resulting in a net increase of $3836 in funding to the school for every student who leaves to take advantage of an ESA. The overall results of ESAs would be more funding for public schools, not less.

 Scholarship Accounts are extremely popular!

Nationwide: 6 States have ESA programs of some kind. (Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tenn, NC) with over a dozen other states considering them presently. Around 15,000 students are participating in these programs nationwide.

Just last month, a Mason-Dixon poll found that 78% of respondents support ESAs.

A January 2018 nationwide survey shows 75% support for ESAs with only 19% opposed. Support is overwhelmingly strong across a variety of groups:

  • Republicans 81%
  • Democrats 70%
  • Independents 78%
  • Hispanics 87%
  • African-Americans 73%
  • Millennials 77%
  • Generation X 80%

Parental satisfaction with ESAs in Arizona is also telling: 71% highly satisfied, 19% satisfied, 10% somewhat satisfied, 0% were unsatisfied to any degree.

That’s 100% satisfaction, but what about in Georgia?

How much would you support ESAs for the following categories of students?

CategoryRepublicanDemocratIndependentOverallOppose
Special Needs84%79%85%82%13%
Financial Hardships70%77%76%74%19%
Military Families74%72%73%73%19%
Fostercare68%74%76%73%19%

Companies who are looking to expand or locate in a particular state are looking for states with educational choice for their employees. Rural areas benefit greatly from ESAs because there might not be options for private schooling, however there are many options for online learning and private tutoring. The number one concern of military personnel is will they be able to choose the right educational path for their children.

Key Findings based on Empirical Research

  • Student Academic Achievement of participants is higher!

Out of 18 studies, 14 showed positive results for participants, 2 have neutral findings and 2 (both from Louisiana) had negative findings. 

  • Student Academic Achievement of non-participants is higher too!

Out of 33 studies, 31 showed improved academic outcomes of the students who remained in public schools (1 study was neutral, 1 study was negative). Students who participate in these types of programs are often ones who are not performing well in a traditional public school setting. Their participation in the program frees up resources and personnel in the public school to focus on those who remain.

  • Educational Choice programs make our schools more diverse!

Educational choice programs actually lead to more diverse schools. 9 out of 10 studies show that students in these programs move from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. The other study showed no impact.

  • Educational Choice programs result in more funding for public schools!

Educational Choice programs save money! Of 28 empirical studies done on educational choice’s financial impact on taxpayers and school districts, 25 found that these programs save money and 3 studies showed them as revenue neutral. None showed added cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, you have the study done specifically on Georgia schools released just last week showing that public school funding actually increases when a student leaves to use an ESA.

  • Educational Choice results in students learning more Civics.

Of 11 studies done on this issue, 8 showed positive effects on program participants’ civic values. The other 3 showed no impact (neutral). Students in educational choice programs performed better than their public school counterparts when it came to political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political adaptation, social capital, civic skills and patriotism.

For a summary of all of these empirical studies, go here: 

https://www.excelined.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/ExcelinEd.PolicyToolkit.PrivateChoice.Research.2018.pdf

Conclusion: Educational Scholarship Accounts give parents the widest number of choices to address the specific needs of their children. It’s the 21st century and our modern Georgia parents need a diverse portfolio of options to choose from when deciding the best educational environment for their child.  There are a lot of innovative options out there when it comes to educating kids today and parents shouldn’t be boxed into doing things only one way.

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chefdavidEllynnTDubs Recent comment authors
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TDubs
TDubs

Let me get this straight….above and beyond statutory requirements, someone is going to support increasing state funding for public education by 5% but wants to experiment and let 0.5% of all students and their funding potentially leave public education? 5% up. 0.5% down. Can we make that trade every year?

Ellynn
Ellynn

I have but one concern (which I have anytime tax dollars are involved for private schools). Is the scholarship going to a school owned or funded by a religious intuition? I have issues with my tax dollars going to schools where children are taught as part of their religion to hate mine. I know some people who would be upset if their tax dollars funded school that teach my beliefs.

How is this handled, or is it just ignored?

chefdavid
chefdavid

So my daughter was in Dade Public Schools from pre k – 3. She now goes to GPS in Chattanooga, a private school. Does that mean she will qualify? I’m fer it. I pay school taxes.