Seventy-five percent of 580,000 Republican primary voters in Georgia voted in favor of expanding education choice options in the state’s primary in May 2016. The ballot question read, “Should Georgia empower parents with the right to use the tax dollars allocated for the education of their children, allowing them the freedom to choose among public, private, virtual, and home schools? Yes or No.”
The results bolster the results of polling conducted in Georgia in January 2015 by McLaughlin and Associates on behalf of the American Federation for Children. That poll showed 66 percent of all Georgians, not just Republicans, were in favor of expanding education choice. The survey also found 63 percent of Georgians support the proposed Georgia Opportunity Scholarship voucher program and 55 percent believe vouchers should be made available to all children. Seventy-two percent supported an increase in the number of charter schools in the state, and 70 percent believe charter students should receive the same amount of funding they would have received if they were attending a traditional public school.
Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children, released a statement after the vote saying the poll shows Republicans in the GOP-led state strongly favor school choice programs. “We hope policy makers throughout Georgia recognize the hunger parents have for school choice and embrace the future of education, which focuses on ensuring every child reaches his or her fullest potential and receives a world class education … The results are apparent and clear – Republican voters strongly support school choice and expect their elected officials to transfer power from the education establishment into the hands of parents,” said DeVos.
Currently, education choice in Georgia is limited. The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program—a voucher program for students with disabilities—is available to only 11 percent of the state’s K–12 students. Only 3,811 students participated through the 2014–15 school year. The Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit is a tax-credit scholarship program available to 93 percent of K–12 students, but funding levels for the program only support scholarships for less than 1 percent of students statewide – 13,428 in 2014. According to the Georgia Charter Schools Association, only 15 percent of public school students were enrolled in public charter schools in Georgia in 2014–15, despite evidence the public schools in the state are failing to adequately prepare students.
Only 35 percent of Georgia 4th graders and 28 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Only 34 percent of 4th graders and 30 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Georgia’s public school system is failing to educate roughly seven out of 10 students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics.
Georgia’s sub-standard performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in Georgia are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.
A universal voucher bill similar to the Georgia Opportunity Scholarship program would go a long way toward remedying Georgia’s dismal record of failing to educate its children. The goal should be to allow every parent to choose, require every school to compete, and give every child an opportunity to attend a quality school.
The following documents provide more information on school choice and education reform.
Ten Principles of School Choice
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 school vouchers are constitutional, grassroots activists around the country have been organizing to support the creation of school choice programs. Legislatures passed statewide programs in Colorado and Florida, and other states are expected to follow their lead. At least 35 cities have privately funded voucher programs. This booklet from The Heartland Institute provides policymakers and civic and business leaders with a highly condensed and easy-to-read guide to the debate. It presents the 10 most important principles of the school choice movement, explaining each principle in plain and precise language. It also contains an extensive bibliography for further research, including many links to documents available on the internet, and a directory of the websites of national organizations that support school choice.
A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.
The ABCs of School Choice – 2016 Edition
The ABCs of School Choice, produced by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, is a comprehensive, data-rich guide to every private school choice program in America. This annually updated publication may not reflect developments past January 25, 2016.
Taking Credit for Education: How to Fund Education Savings Accounts Through Tax Credits
This paper from the Cato Institute explains how legislators can design an education savings account (ESA) program that is privately funded through tax-credit-eligible contributions from taxpayers, which is similar to models used in many tax-credit scholarship programs around the country. Tax-credit-funded ESAs would empower families with more educational options while enhancing accountability and refraining from coercing anyone into supporting ideas they oppose. Because they are funded through voluntary contributions rather than public funds, tax-credit scholarships have a perfect record of constitutionality at the U.S. Supreme Court and at every state supreme court that has considered the issue. In states that have adopted a Blaine amendment, tax-credit ESAs could be a lifeline to families in need.
Pursuing Innovation: How Can Education Choice Transform K–12 Education in the U.S.?
This report by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice summarizes the state of competition in U.S. K–12 education. It pays particular attention to the prevalence and market penetration of charter schools, private school vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships. The effect of competition from charters, vouchers, and tax-credit scholarships on the performance of traditional district schools and education funding is examined using a survey of recent high-quality research on that topic. These summaries and analyses suggest enhancing educational competition using school choice programs would likely improve the productivity of district schools, subject to the effective design of school choice policies.
The Legal Landscape of Parental-Choice Policy
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris cleared away the most significant obstacle to the expansion of private school choice programs by ruling the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not preclude faith-based schools from participating in private school choice programs. These programs raise other important legal questions, which fall into four categories: the scope of students’ rights to an education and parents’ rights to choose their children’s schools; state constitutional obstacles to private school choice; the effect of laws governing racial integration and the inclusion of disabled students; and the religious liberty implications of faith-based schools participating in such programs. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes the lack of clarity on these questions poses challenges, but AEI also says these questions create opportunities for proponents of private school choice to scale up existing programs and expand program options.
The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.
How School Choice Programs Can Save Money
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.
Study Finds School Vouchers Boost College Enrollment for African Americans by 24%
In an experimental study examining the long-term outcomes of school voucher programs, Matthew M. Chingos and Paul E. Peterson found the percentage of African-American students who enrolled part-time or full-time in college by 2011 was 24 percent higher for those who had won a school voucher lottery while in elementary school and used the voucher to attend a private school.
Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News at https://heartland.org/publications-resources/newsletters/school-reform-news, The Heartland Institute’s website at http://heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.
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