Georgia Judge Tosses Out Lawsuit Against Education-Expense Tax Credit

Published March 22, 2016

A Georgia county judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the state’s education-expense tax credit program after determining the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the program’s constitutionality.

The decision left the reform program in place, allowing students to receive privately funded scholarships to attend the school of their family’s choice.

In February, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams dismissed the lawsuit, filed in 2014 by representatives of the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting the interests of government schools. The plaintiffs claimed offering tax credits for private school scholarship expenses and tuition gave the program’s donors illegal benefits and allowed government schools to be commandeered by private organizations donating to the program.

Reformers ‘Very Pleased’

Kelly McCutchen, president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, says Georgia’s children will benefit from the lawsuit’s dismissal.

“We are, of course, very pleased the court struck down this spurious lawsuit,” McCutchen said. “We think low- and middle-income children deserve access to the education that best fits their needs.”

Currently, the fund is limited to $58 million per year, or about $63 per Georgia child between the ages of 5 and 18. McCutchen says the program should be expanded so more children can benefit.

“The cap for this program has been [reached] on the very first day it was opened for contributions for the last two years,” McCutchen said. “Now that all legal challenges have been clearly overcome, it is time for the Georgia General Assembly to raise the cap.”

Efficient Use of Money Cited

Jim Kelly, general counsel for Georgia Greater Opportunities for Access to Learning (GOAL) Scholarship, Inc., one of the nonprofit organizations tasked with awarding scholarships under the tax credit program, says the program gives taxpayers more bang for their buck than government schools can provide.

“The average adjusted gross income of GOAL scholarship families has been $25,496,” Kelly said. “Yet, GOAL is able to offer scholarships to both low- and middle-income families while keeping its average scholarship award to around $3,682, which is significantly less than the $4,500 average per-pupil amount the state spends to educate a student in public school.”

Calls for Expansion

Kelly says the cap on the tax credit program keeps far too many children in substandard schools.

“Of course, low-income families who cannot access financial aid to send their children to better schools face the tragic reality of having to keep their children in substandard public schools,” Kelly said. “But an underappreciated reality is that so many middle-income families who desire to send their children to safe and character-forming private schools are not able to [meet the required costs].”

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.