Georgia Passes Special-Needs Voucher Bill

Published June 1, 2007

On the last day of its legislative session, April 20, Georgia joined the parade of states that have passed voucher legislation. The measure has been sent to Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) for his signature.

Senate Bill 10 allows parents of disabled children to use the money the state would have spent educating their children in public schools to send them to the public or private school of their choice. The average voucher will be about $9,000, and an estimated 4,100 students will use them when they become available this autumn.

The Georgia Senate passed the bill in early January. The vote in the state General Assembly–which ultimately passed it 91-84–was a horse race, witnesses said.

“You usually know how the vote’s going to go, and we really didn’t,” said Lori Drummer, state project director for the Alliance for School Choice, a national advocacy group based in Washington, DC. “We thought we could lose by two [votes]. So we are definitely celebrating. This was just a pure victory.”

Riding High in April

Jamie Self, vice president of public policy for the Georgia Family Council, agreed. Heading into the final day of the session, she said, advocates knew they had 89 solid votes for the bill, but they would need 91 to reach the required majority.

“It was a little touch and go right up until the very end,” Self said. “In the last 30 minutes, we were running around getting people out of bathrooms and their offices, because we knew if even one of them wasn’t there, we wouldn’t get it. It was a little bit dramatic.”

The Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, an advocacy group based in Indianapolis, spent five months taking Georgians’ pulse on school choice in conjunction with four other groups. The result was a poll released in the weeks before the vote, showing 59 percent of Georgians favored the special-needs voucher legislation and only 20 percent opposed it.

In addition, 58 percent of Georgians said they favor vouchers in general, while only 22 percent oppose them. Perhaps most importantly, 54 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports school choice than one who does not.

“I know that poll had an effect on a couple of votes in particular,” Self said. “There were a couple of people who really wanted to come our way and vote for this, but were afraid for an election back home. It was great to have that data so we could tell them what the numbers were in their area.”

Rejected in March

Elsewhere in the South, school choice did not fare as well this spring: A bill that would have combined tax credits and vouchers in South Carolina, the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act, was defeated in the legislature in late March by seven votes.

School choice advocates said they will continue bringing the bill back for consideration.

“This is a parental loss, not a political loss–but it’s only a temporary setback for those who care about making our students and our state more competitive,” Randy Page, president of South Carolinians for Responsible Government, said in a March 29 news release.

“Regardless of today’s outcome,” Page noted, “the past few days demonstrate that support for school choice is growing, and that more and more House members are showing the courage to stand up to the education establishment.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.