Legislation pending in Georgia would raise the state’s tax-credit scholarship cap from $50 million to $80 million. The program allows residents to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for donations to nonprofits that give students scholarships to private schools.
Donations to scholarship funds “reach [the] cap way before the deadline every year, highlighting the desperate need among families to have more education alternatives and the willingness of taxpayers to commit money to school choice in Georgia,” said Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
The tax-credit scholarships sent approximately 11,000 students to private schools in 2011-2012. Today 35 nonprofits grant scholarships. Georgia also offers special-needs vouchers.
House Bill 140 will “provide more choice and hope for children and parents in Georgia,” said bill sponsor Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs). The program has been “wildly successful in supporting children,” he said.
The average scholarship is about $3,500, roughly 40 percent of Georgia’s per-pupil annual public school spending, according to the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice.
“The tax credit scholarships provide an alternative to the one-size-fits-all model of public schools,” Dodd said, “giving families the opportunity to customize their child’s education by choosing a public school or private school that fits their needs.” She added, “The public school a child may leave isn’t necessarily a bad school. It may simply not accommodate that child’s particular needs.”
Questions About Transparency
Opponents charge the program sends tax money to religious schools. But the scholarships are “funded by donations from individuals and corporations, not taxpayer dollars,” said Danielle LeSure, research manager for the Center for an Educated Georgia. “Similar to individuals giving a tax-deductible donation to the charity or place of worship of their choice, tax credit scholarship donors and scholarship recipients can select any eligible private school, religious or non-religious institution.”
Ehrhart says he is “thrilled … taxpaying Americans can still practice their constitutional rights to associative and free use of their own funds for charitable purposes.”
He has dismissed reports that some schools and scholarship organizations gave families tuition discounts for getting scholarship donors, that others were telling families to fake public school enrollment to be eligible for the program, and some told families their scholarship donations would be applied to their child’s tuition.
Dodd agrees, saying, “There are indeed bad players. The way to get them out of the arena is through transparency and accountability” rather than “by restrictions on children’s educational opportunities.”
She cautioned against throwing out the entire program rather than fixing its loopholes.
“School choice is never popular among establishment types, so several groups who believe that the government should corner the market on education are trying to poke holes in the scholarship program,” Dodd said. “The bottom line is that the money should follow the child and the child should come first—and that is accomplished by providing a variety of viable, accountable options in education, not by restricting them.”
Image by EagleBrook School.