This week’s Courier Herald column:
On March 5th, the day before “Crossover Day” when
a bill must pass either the Georgia House or Senate to be considered for final
passage this year, the Senate failed to pass a bill creating Education
Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs, for students currently attending Georgia public
schools. The Senate Bill 173 garnered 25
votes in favor, but needed 29 votes to pass.
Democrats made voting against the bill a caucus position. The
eleven sponsors of the bill, led by Senator Greg Dolezal of Cumming are all
Republican. On the final vote, however,
Senate Republican leaders balked, siding with the Democratic caucus to stall
It is unseemly to talk about allowing Georgia’s children to
have the best opportunity by granting them additional education choices in
partisan terms, but here we are. The
money and grassroots activities granted to Democrats by teachers’ unions and
associations demand unwavering support of the status quo, as well as a constant
demand for “more”.
Anyone wishing to challenge this status quo must face not
only well orchestrated public relations campaigns by institutions of
educational bureaucracy, but their willing and ready allies in the press. Note that most news stories about this bill
are about robbing public schools of funding.
The facts on funding in Georgia are clear. Our public schools have never received as
much money per pupil. QBE is fully funded. Teachers are getting an additional
step raise this year, with the promise for even more next year. “More” has been addressed year after year,
but for the bureaucracy, it will never be enough. Students, meanwhile, remain trapped in
schools that do not allow them to unlock their full potential.
ESA’s allow the state portion of education funding for
public school students to become a scholarship to be used for education
expenses outside the school of their assigned zip code. These would be
available for up to .5% of students per year, with a cap of 5% of Georgia’s
students. Priority would be granted for
those in low income homes, students who are being bullied, students with
disabilities, and students in military families.
The claim that this reduces funding for public schools is a
farce. Local systems retain all
education funds from property and sales taxes within the local system. As a result, any local system that loses a
student via the ESA program has more money to spend for each remaining
student. Meanwhile, charities or parents
must bring additional dollars in to cover the remaining cost to educate each ESA
student, increasing overall education spending.
It remains curious to watch the division within the GOP on
this issue, given that they claim to be the party of opportunity over
government central planning. It becomes
less clear why there is a split when public opinion polls are considered.
A poll released Monday by GeorgiaCAN, an education advocacy group, shows that 70% of Georgians favor ESA’s under a plan similar to SB 173. Further, they are overwhelmingly supportive of assisting special student populations such as students with learning disabilities (89% support), children within the foster care system (87% support), Children in low income families (85% support), children of active duty military (84% support), or those who are bullied (76% support).
Curious to those falling in line to the caucus position, 75% of Democrats favor this program, indicating it could be an issue for Republicans to take back seats lost in the 2018 elections. 70% of Republicans polled favor the program, while 59% of independents support ESA’s.
The issue won’t be going away so legislators of both parties
have a choice. They can cede to educational
bureaucrats protecting their turf, or they can follow the will of their
constituents and allow each Georgia child the maximum number of choices to
unlock their own personal potential.