Scholarship Cap Met In 1 Day, Poll Shows Support For Raising It, Expanding School Choice In Georgia.

As many of you are aware, Georgia has a program where people and companies can receive a tax credit when they donate money to entities called Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs). These SSOs provide scholarships to students to attend private schools. The program is popular among parents and donors but is capped currently at $58 million per year. Last year the cap was met in about 11 days. This year the cap was met on January 1st.

The Georgia Department of Revenue has announced that the program hit its $58 million cap for the year on Jan. 1., about three weeks earlier than the money ran out last year.

The General Assembly created the program in 2008 to give Georgia parents who can’t afford private school on their own an alternative other than sending their kids to a public school in a state beset with low test scores and a high dropout rate.

Under the law, individuals who contribute to the scholarships program receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000, and married couples filing jointly get up to $2,500.

Businesses can receive credits of up to 75 percent of their state income tax liability.

Many people, myself included, think the cap should be raised, significantly. In fact, a new poll released today by American Federation for Children shows strong bi-partisan support for raising the cap and, despite a law suit filed by opponents of the program, strong support for the program itself. According to the poll, 65% of respondents support the program compared to 26% who oppose. In addition, 64% support raising the program’s cap, while 28% oppose. Given that strong support, I’m not sure why the program is still deemed “controversial.”

Other items from the AFP poll:

– Sixty-three percent (63%) favor the Georgia Opportunity Scholarship Program, which would allow
parents to use the money the state has set aside for their child’s education to send them to the public,
private or church-run school of their choice. Three in ten (31%) oppose this program.

– Greater than eight in ten (82%) believe that state-funded educational scholarships should be given in at
least some capacity. The majority (55%) says that all children should have access to these scholarships,
regardless of what school district they are assigned. Eleven percent (11%) believes only low income
students should have access, while 16% say only children in failing public schools should have access.
Just 14% of Georgians believe that scholarships should not be provided at all.

– Voters favor public charter schools by a greater than two to one margin, 66% to 24%.

– Support for public charter schools increases to 72% after hearing that they are independent public
schools that are free to be more innovative and are held more accountable for student achievement.

Discuss all this in the comments.

80 comments

    • androidguybill says:

      It doesn’t need to improve outcomes to be justified. A better question: why do you oppose tax money being used to send kids to whatever schools the parents want? Keep in mind:

      THIS. HAS. ALREADY. EXISTED. FOR. COLLEGES. AND. VOCATIONAL. SCHOOLS. FOR. DECADES. You can take your Pell Grant, Hope Scholarship, military benefits etc. to any college or trade school that you want. But those are mature adults, right? True. But:

      THIS. HAS. ALREADY. EXISTED. FOR. PRE-K. FOR. DECADES. That is right. If you are indigent, you can use your public benefits to send your kid to any daycare, preschool, Head Start etc. you want.

      It is only K-12 where people insist that using tax money to attend any school other than the one closest to your house has to be “justified” in some way to be allowed. And that attitude – why “vouchers” or “school choice” exists for everyone but K-12 – is something that your side needs to explain.

      • Well our policy has been to make universally available public K-12, not pre-school or college. If you’re really for this, I don’t see how having a limited number that get vacuumed up in the first day of the year is really the way to do it.

        I just question the benefits, knowing that for example many education reforms (charter schools for one) don’t particularly outperform public schools when you actually look.

        It would be one thing if Georgia was spending say New Jersey or Connecticut level money on public schools and coming up with our poor results and we collectively said we’ve thrown all the money we have at it and we aren’t getting results let’s try something new. We aren’t anywhere close to that.

        • androidguybill says:

          “Well our policy has been to make universally available public K-12, not pre-school or college.”

          Red herring. School choice has nothing to do with school availability.

          “I just question the benefits, knowing that for example many education reforms (charter schools for one) don’t particularly outperform public schools when you actually look.”

          I repeat: THERE. DOES. NOT. NEED. TO. BE. A. BENEFIT.

          Honestly, this is a free society, a democracy if you will, not a dictatorship. (Yes, that is hyperbole, but it is the best that I can muster.) You have to demonstrate the harm that results from allowing a freedom to exist, not using its lack of a justification as a rationale for taking it away.

          “It would be one thing if Georgia was spending say New Jersey or Connecticut level money on public schools and coming up with our poor results and we collectively said we’ve thrown all the money we have at it and we aren’t getting results let’s try something new. We aren’t anywhere close to that.”

          I will be redundant. SCHOOL. CHOICE. DOES. NOT. NEED. TO. YIELD. BETTER. RESULTS. IN. ORDER. TO. BE. JUSTIFIED. Or at least not in a totalitarian regime. Instead, it is simply this: I, as a parent, do not like my kid’s school. Or even: I as a parent, LIKE my kid’s school but WANT to send my kid to a DIFFERENT school for ANY reason. Can you come up with a reason why this should not be accommodated? Floods perhaps? Fires? Earthquakes? Dogs and cats living together?

          But hey, if you want to spend as much money on education in Georgia as they do in Massachusetts (#1 according to NAEP) or New Jersey (#4) or Virginia (#8) go ahead. I am not necessarily opposed. But what prevents increasing education funding AND providing school choice? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, and those who legitimately want the latter (this means you!) should be more than willing to trade school choice in order to get higher funding in return. The only question is why you haven’t already.

          Also, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut: don’t be fooled. Those states have very strong and numerous private and magnet school options. But because these are northeastern states and because their private and magnet schools long preceded the choice/charter/voucher debate, the fact that many parents in Massachusetts have viable OPTIONS like Boston Latin (a very competitive, exclusive PUBLIC school) never gets discussed. If that is what you want to fund, go for it. But you are going to have to be willing to offer something in return to get it, and it seems like school choice is a reasonable horse to trade, especially since the FREEDOM to decide where your kids go to school is something that SHOULD ALREADY EXIST IN A FREE SOCIETY. Don’t you agree? Or does your notions on freedom in a democracy exist in areas other than those related to the bedroom?

    • Yup – several parents report that their child benefits from fuller language emersion, smaller class sizes (18 v 27), less hassle from IEP debates, a clearer discipline process, and not having kids tested for ADHD just because they can’t sit still for hours on end before the 3rd grade.

      In other words, where the shot gun approach for public schools fails.

      But these are mostly white families, since most of my friends are white.

  1. blakeage80 says:

    So it’s not a matter of making the case to the public anymore, just finding enough representatives to part with some power. I wonder what this survey looks like among educators.

    • Actually John, I think this saves the state and the school systems money. If a student leaves the public schools the state and the local system no longer have the expense of educating that student. The local school system can reduce class sizes and keeps the local portion of the money they raise for the schools. The state sees a reduction in tax revenue but it is offset by the reduction in expenses of education those kids.

      • Chamblee says:

        Buzz-

        Your statement ignores economic realities. If a student leaves a school then the school doesn’t get to cut 1/30 of a teacher, or 1/30 air conditioning bills, or 1/30 of bus maintenance costs. They still have to operate a school on an even more shoestring budget that is being provided.

        Also, I get that the money is made available to attend charter schools but how do you reconcile that the money can also be used for religiously affiliated school?

        • Let’s deal with reality here. There are something like 1.7 million kids in Georgia’s public schools. The cap is $58 million per year, at a conservative figure of $3000 per student, there are a little less than 20,000 kids in the program. Let’s double that by raising the cap to $100 million per year so now there are 40,000 kids who have left the public school system as a result of the student scholarship program. How in the world does that harm the public school system? That’s about 2.3% of the total public school population. Nobody will be laid off, class sizes will shrink by that amount and life goes on.

          Also remember that local school systems raise money through property taxes and local splosts. That money stays if kids go to charter schools or of they leave to go to a private school. The reduction in student population I’m talking about here actually helps the public schools because the local money stays the same whether 1 student or 180,000 show up. A small reduction allows local systems to spend money local money per student.

          • John Konop says:

            ………….That’s about 2.3% of the total public school population. Nobody will be laid off, class sizes will shrink by that amount and life goes on.

            Also remember that local school systems raise money through property taxes and local splosts. That money stays if kids go to charter schools or of they leave to go to a private school. The reduction in student population I’m talking about here actually helps the public schools because the local money stays the same whether 1 student or 180,000 show up. A small reduction allows local systems to spend money local money per student…….

            The reason I pay my property taxes and local splosts is to fill needed capacity needs right? If I do not fill needed capacity than we end up paying for things we do not need. You realize that is why cities go broke, they tax to much locally to pay for things they do not need. It sound like we are shifting added cost to the local districts by not using capacity they voted on to pay for this?

            • So if Cherokee County public schools looses 2.3% of their student population, but keeps all locally raised money they will go broke? That’s preposterous John.

              What if 2.3% of the student population leaves because their families move? CCPS still keeps their locally raised money but has fewer students to educate. Should we pass a law saying people can’t move without approval of the school board?

              • John Konop says:

                Buzz,

                You assume the 2.3% is an equal number by county when in reality you have growing counties and counties decreasing in population. Depending on what side you are on the impact will be felt differently. Second, as on old school business man, you learn it is not usually one decision that kills a business, it is a culture. Successful business people will tell you it is about being fiscally sound in all areas, bad fiscal behavior can spread like cancer through a company. Everybody has an attitude about their part of the business budget time, one person is asking for only an extra few points on their part of the budget….add it all up from each department you have a problem.

                Finally nobody proposed any restrictions on people moving from what I read. I have never seen that on a ballot via local taxes and or statewide taxes. Are you for that?

          • taylor says:

            Buzz’s answer shows a surprising amount of naivety, given the presentation delivered at my kids’ school a couple of years ago (maybe things have changed and receipts weren’t grandfathered).

            The meeting was for parents of existing private school students, not those in a public school. So public school loses money but population does not drop.

            Parents were told by SSO and school director that SSO kept 10% of any donation. Of the remaining 90%, 80% at least would be designated as a scholarship for the donor’s child. We were told to go to the public school office to register, but attendance wasn’t necessary – a point reiterated by Rep. Casas in a video showed to the group. There were parents of 60-70 kids in the meeting.

            When the donations flowed from this group, there is a drop in state revenue and no drop in costs to the public schools. Since we made “charitable” contributions, we could claim a federal deduction also.

            • As you said, the presentation you attended was a couple of years ago. The program no longer allows students who were only enrolled for 1 day to take advantage of the SSO program. Thus the students joining the program are coming from public schools.

        • As far as religiously affiliated schools, you must remember no tax dollars are being given to schools. Private money funds the scholarships. The donor receives a tax credit.

          • gcp says:

            Whose “private money” funds the SSOs? Does the individual school fund the scholarship or what?

            And a tax credit (unlike a deduction) is money to the doner.

            • Private donors (individuals or corporations) donate money to the Student Scholarship Organization of their choice. That SSO gives the money they raise to students to help pay their tuition.

              The donor receives a tax credit. There is no state money going to private schools in this program.

              • John Konop says:

                I want to donate all my state taxes to one of my businesses, and not pay state taxes, can I do that? Hey, under your definition “no state money” is going to my private business?

              • Will Durant says:

                It is state support by proxy of private businesses. If I’m being reimbursed 100% by the state for a $2500 “donation” or 75% of my business’ taxable income then this is just diversion of state funds. Period.

      • John Konop says:

        As a tax payer I paid for capacity with my taxes everyday for public schools ie buses, buildings,teacher ….If my school system is not at full capacity how does your math work? I am just an old school businessman so go slow 🙂

          • John Konop says:

            Buzz,

            We know joint enrolment works, and we need an increase of employees with vo-tech skills. Why not focus on what works and increase the success, before moving in different directions?

            • Joint enrollment is a great program and we have, and will continue to work on encouraging it.

              But John, there are 13 styles of mustard at the grocery store down the street from me. The public demands and expects choices. Why should education be any different? And why should private schools only be available to wealthy people?

              Every time the issue of options for parents comes up, you oppose it out of fear of what it will do to the traditional public school. Should we prop up Blackberry because Apple created a device people like better? Should Grey Poupon be banned because of the impact their sales may have on French’s?

              • John Konop says:

                Buzz,

                So not true….I worked with our local school board to help create an online home school option that students could take some classes in school and some on line, creating flexability and options…..I supported charter schools as long as tax payers are not put at a material higher risk position than private company involved with the school. The above proposals I made can and in part are being used at private and public schools. My wife and I have used private schools with both our kids with part of thier education and donated money. I was one of first to speak out against intergrated math/ math 123, No Child Left Behind style one size fit all education years ago. Come on Buzz very unfair statement….I have been pushing options for students for years, and been published in papers across the state for years…I am also a fiscal conservative first….I am old school, my reputation in the private sector is I spend money like it is my own money when running a company…very conservative…while other believe hey it is not my money….

        • The math works like this: either your school system is under capacity to the point they close schools and consolidate (See: City of Decatur), your school system is under capacity to the point where schools start to specialize and provide IEP / IE2 services (See: Gwinnett / Cobb), or you can view your school system as its entirety, with the private schools in the mix as well (See: City of Atlanta), and then your public schools will start to out perform the public ones because the classes are so small, the teachers cannot leave the system (so they enjoy a smaller class), or your population is so small that folks are fleeing, in which case, we go back to consolidation. I should note, Charter schools as a vehicle for quick change enable all of these things.

  2. Chamblee says:

    Two issues
    1. Doesn’t it further concentrate wealth in a few pockets (north Atlanta) and drain educational resources from the rest of the state?
    2. Isn’t it unconstitutional?

    • androidguybill says:

      1. Rural schools already attempted a lawsuit on that issue, a “Robin Hood” scheme that federal courts imposed on Texas. It was rejected by the state supreme court. Incidentally, left-liberals – represented by Cynthia Tucker of the AJC – panned the idea because it would have meant less money being spent on urban kids in Fulton, DeKalb etc. Their response: the rural areas should raise local taxes to pay for what they need.

      2. No, it plainly isn’t. Ideologues on both sides should stop throwing around “unconstitutional” whenever confronted with a policy that they personally dislike. You may find tax money being given to religious schools to be personally abhorrent, but the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled against you. The only state supreme courts who agree with you are those whose state constitutions have “Blaine Amendment” laws written into them. But for goodness sakes, be consistent. Please proclaim the MediCare payments that go to BAPTIST Emory University-run hospitals to be unconstitutional. Also declare the Pell Grants that go to the METHODIST Atlanta University Center institutions to be unconstitutional. And as I mentioned to Huttman above, please agitate to have the HOPE childcare money that goes to the many preschools and Head Start programs operated by religious institutions to be unconstitutional as well.

      • MattMD says:

        For the record, Emory University is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. I really don’t think Emory Healthcare itself has much affiliation with the church.

        Anyhow, I don’t see anybody saying that the government should withhold reimbursements to actual religiously affiliated hospitals like St. Joe’s or St. Mary’s for instance.

  3. gcp says:

    As a consumption tax proponent I question all credits, deductions and exemptions but I would be curious to know if this program saves taxpayers money or not. If you take one or two kids out of a school what’s the savings? We need a good, objective study of this program before its expanded or continued.

  4. Keep it up, Buzz.

    The arguments against it are just ornamental shells that belie their ideological zeal to control parents, and students — and what they teach and what they don’t.

    100 years from now the world will look back on the failed, essentially choiceless educational system we currently use and take note that it was educational system driven by collectivist ideology — not by what was best for kids and families.

    The model of empowering all parents to make real choices, to *realistically* enable them to spend their own educational money they way they best see fit, will eventually change the world of education.

    • androidguybill says:

      “100 years from now the world will look back on the failed, essentially choiceless educational system we currently use and take note that it was educational system driven by collectivist ideology — not by what was best for kids and families.”

      Whoa there. Don’t take this too far. Your assumption – that all or most parents are doing the very best that they can to provide the best possible education for their child – is false. The truth is that more parents know the batting average of their baseball team’s cleanup guy than know the AYP data for the schools that their kids are zoned for. The children of those parents mostly get a good education mainly because their parents happen to live in an area with good (public!) schools. It is more than that of course: many of those parents discipline their kids and what not, but otherwise aren’t particularly engaged in their kids’ education. So if we collapse an educational model that works “OK” for most of the kids of the 80% of parents that are passive at best about their educations in order to construct one that responds to the desires of the 20% that are dying to get their kids into Harvard (or UGA) then how are we better off?

      “The model of empowering all parents to make real choices, to *realistically* enable them to spend their own educational money they way they best see fit, will eventually change the world of education.”

      That is another thing. Remember Mitt Romney and his 47% comment? Much (most?) of the population does not pay anywhere enough in property or other taxes to cover the cost of educating their kids, especially considering that a whole lot of the tax burden is paid by people who do not currently have school-age children. So there will still be a lot of wealth redistribution going on. The only change is that (some) parents will have choose to have more say over how your money is spent to educate their child.

      Basically, so long as conservatives are only interested in educational reform when it can be depicted as a front in the battle against socialism, then conservatives will never be effective as educational reformers. (For example: name the leading conservative that is as passionate about education – and the entire issue, not just school choice – as he is about lowering taxes and cutting spending. Raising 3rd grade literacy rates wasn’t exactly a primary talking point at the TEA Party rallies … TARP and Obamacare were.)

  5. androidguybill says:

    @John Konop:

    Our public school funding model is antiquated, built to accommodate a economy and culture that no longer exists. Now switching to a new model will negatively impact some people. Some kids will be hurt. Some communities will be hurt. And that is a terrible shame. But sticking with this outdated model will harm more kids and communities.

    We have to look at this critically: why did we ever organize school systems by geography and assign students to their closest school (or using whatever method that was important to the government) to begin with? Simple: it was the most effective and efficient way to educate the most kids at the time given the constraints. Also, as 90% of the population was going to work on the farm or the factory anyway, there was no reason to do anything different.

    But now the needs are different – most jobs are going to require an education past what is now considered high school – and the constraints no longer exist. The world has changed, so why not enable an educational system that changes with it? We are going to have to start taking seriously the idea that what works for my kid won’ t work for your kid, what works for my community isn’t in the best interests of your community, and so on.

      • androidguybill says:

        Well the improvements that you have written about cost money too! Tracking and the other issues near and dear to your heart require an “old school” math approach. As a matter of fact, the legal fees that will come from having to defend your tracking idea from the inevitable civil rights lawsuits would pay for doubling this program from $58 million to $116 million alone!

        But honestly, we need to:

        A) decide on the path of school reform needed

        and

        B) allocate the funds necessary to get it done.

        The people who support school choice are willing to pay extra to provide it because 1. they support school choice on principle and 2. they honestly believe that it will improve education for a large number of kids, which will in turn benefit society. In that way, they are no different from the public school establishment (for lack of a better term) who wants blank checks to turn public schools into social welfare offices, and even then turn hostile at the very idea that they should demonstrate that public schools actually educate anybody. So when it comes to “making the math work” it school choice math versus the public education lobby math. The only difference is that the latter claims that no amount of money spent on traditional public schools will ever justify providing school choice. You could increase public school funding levels to $100,000 per student and the teacher’s unions would still claim that taking $100 of that for a charter or voucher scheme would deprive public schools of badly needed funds.

        • John Konop says:

          If you make it a student and parent option no lawsuits….and in fact it is being done successfully in part in Georgia today. Once again the concept, I presented is working today in our schools as 2 systems not one. Obviously one system would not only provide better service it would cost less. Win/win for tax payers and students. I guess I am just an old school fiscal conservative….

          • androidguybill says:

            No lawsuits only because you haven’t encountered people that are upset at the track that their kid is on. Broaden the scope, that will certainly happen.

            Fiscal conservatism is fine. Be fiscally conservative with the new public education model all you want! But don’t use fiscal conservatism as a reason to avoid admitting that the current public education model no longer fits our society and economy and furthermore fails to take advantage of the advances in things like technology and communications.

            The simple way: set aside one pot of money for school choice and another for the mainline public schools. Of course, the public education advocates will claim that the pot of money for school choice SHOULD be theirs also. But everyone else would feel differently.

            • John Konop says:

              ……..No lawsuits only because you haven’t encountered people that are upset at the track that their kid is on……

              The parents and students pick the track…..all I am doing is adding options ie choice.

              … But don’t use fiscal conservatism as a reason to avoid admitting that the current public education model no longer fits our society and economy and furthermore fails to take advantage of the advances in things like technology and communications…..

              The current joint enrollment system I am proposing is working today very successfully, better than anything you proposed. I am just expanding it to vo-tech students and streamlining overhead while increasing quality.

              ……..course, the public education advocates will claim that the pot of money for school choice SHOULD be theirs also. But everyone else would feel differently…

              You really do not understand the joint enrollment system. It is school choice, the student can jointly enroll into any certified higher education system today for college. You do understand you could use the system for private schools? I am merely expanding the options for vo-tech students as well. You are way to caught up on being on a side, I am on the students and tax payers side….not political group.

  6. First, I believe it is morally the right thing to do to give low- and middle-income students the same opportunities that wealthy families have today when it comes to finding the best education for their child. As a fiscal conservative, I also believe it is good for taxpayers.

    Dr. Ben Scafidi prepared this analysis on private school choice programs: http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/The-Fiscal-Effects-of-School-Choice-Programs-on-Public-School-Districts.aspx

    But more appropriately, you can view his take on the Georgia State University study of the tax credit program last month: http://georgiapolicy.org/ftp_files/FiscalImpactTaxCreditScholarships.pdf

    Here’s the key fact: Average Georgia state and local spending per student – $9,046 / Average tax credit scholarhship spending per student – $3,517.

    • John Konop says:

      In all due respect, I agree, but how do we pay for it is the question…..this is obviously make believe math….tax credits are coming out the budget anyway you spin it…no one can explain what is the offset..

      • @John, I would argue the offset is that there is less pressure on schools to provide services under an IEP program (already immeasurably strained / strugling), there is less pressure on house holds to home school (opens up parents to buy into a school, there by strengthening the community), and on a macro level, you would only see relief if everyone had school choice / vouchers/ money following the student.

        Ideally, the offset comes from your property taxes – schools have more revenue to spend from the taxes they collect, because their enrollments are down. You wouldn’t get state matching FTE funds, so there’s an offset, and your local schools will start to perform a bit better, so your town would be more attractive.

        Or have I gone crosseyed?

      • John,

        The math is simple: A student costs, as Kelly has said above, on average $9,046 to educate. The state and local governments no longer need to spend the money educating students who leave their schools. Using my number above, there are currently a little less than 20,000 kids in the program. The state gives out $58 million in tax credits bus saves $180,920,000 (20,000 x $9046) in kids it no longer has to educate. Roughly speaking, local school systems get to keep half that (over $90 million) to spend on their remaining students.

        How is this a bad deal?

        • John Konop says:

          Buzz,

          All due respect, LE was straight about what this bill does…..in truth it will put massive financial strains on rural and inner city schools. You are betting that private schools and or charter schools will improve the situation, rather than trying to fix the schools. I give LE credit for the intellectual honesty on this bill.

          A couple of suggestions:

          1) I would leverage infastructure paid by tax payers, because if not you are increasing cost not decreasing. For example we could combine high school with higher education system as I suggested years ago. We already have joint enrollment and AP classes….why not expand the concept and let students leave high school with job skills and or college credit controlled under one system instead of 2? We could levage tax payer paid infastructure with a shared concept between higher education and high school….rather than pay for 2 systems with 2 sets of overhead….

          2)If you did the above testing could be driven by certification needed for job skills and or college credit verse end of year unrelated testing like common core as rarly as 7th grade. This would save massive amounts of money, and focus on the real mission of schools, students gaining job skills and or prepared for higher education after high school graduation.

          The above suggestions would improve the system, and save tax payers money. And would not leave the inner city and rural communities behind…..

          • John, a few points:

            There is no added strain on inner / rural schools – they actually see their $/student increase ideally, and may be able to consolidate if the is low enough or keep class sizes small.

            I admit I’m completely out of touch with the rural plight – I would move myself. But then again, I respect the fact that those communities need to engage in order to make their schools awesome.

            In fact, the onus is then on public schools to perform.

            The shot gun approach works for most. This tax break allows the outliers to have options that a public system would be strained to meet, and that a parent would be empowered to make the best choice for their kids.

            • John Konop says:

              LE,

              In all due respect, the infastructure cost tax payers are paying for you keep leaving out of the business model ie buildings, admisrative cost, buses, fuel…….figuring how to use tax payer paid infastructure saves money…..by combining higher education with high school you will lower cost and increase quality do you understand?

    • Harry says:

      That’s a very pertinent statistic. Progressives need to consider if encouraging/subsidizing alternative education would actually leave more public funds to spread among those who remain in the legacy schools. In reality this is what’s happening in places like Atlanta and north Fulton.

    • gcp says:

      Does your comparison account for the difference in population between public and private schools? Public schools must educate non-english speaking kids, kids with behavior problems, and disabled kids.

      Gwinnet uses specials buses for some disabled kids. I know one eleven year old that gets home tutoring because she is unable to attend school because of a medical condition. And how about kids that can’t speak English, public schools must educate them also.

      And what about the bus service public schools must provide; even if kids don’t use the bus, the system must still make bus transportation available.

      I would like to believe private schools are a better deal for taxpayers but until all factors are consider, the 9000 to 3500$ comparison is not valid.

  7. Will Durant says:

    School choice is fine and possibly needed depending upon where you choose to live. Mental healthcare is needed and funding has been sorely lacking in this state. How about a program so I can predestine my tax dollars by donating to the private mental facility of my choice in exchange for 1-for-1 credits? Or since the state has been shorting the university system in the past few years can I just designate my taxes to go directly to Tech or better still, directly to the salary for UGA’s new offensive coordinator. How about if I set myself up as a vendor for a private school and donate 75% of the taxable income to the same school? This bypassing the budgeting guys to divert my taxes to benefit myself could become a beautiful thing. This is almost as good as farm subsidies that pay me not to grow soybeans.

  8. How do you determine that a cap has been hit? Did folks do their taxes? Did the scholarship programs hit $58 mil in awards?

    How is that determined about who gets those dollars?

    While we’re talking about expanding it, it’s worth noting there are no published metrics about recipients. Seems like a lack of feedback that should be in place.

  9. buckalford says:

    Buzz, thanks for your support for school choice in all forms. While I agree that “raise the cap” seems a simple solution to what is obviously skyrocketing demand for these credits and scholarships, it would do little to address lingering systemic problems with the current program.

    The simple fact is the predominant method of SSO operation in Georgia favors schools with large, generous, and quickly mobilized individual donor bases. Schools raise the money, schools determine which students receive the money, and schools retain the money if a parent decides that another “school choice” is a better fit for their kids. That’s hardly true parental empowerment.

    With few exceptions, schools that serve larger populations of lower-to-middle income students are increasingly marginalized when the cap is met so quickly. More unfortunately, families and kids who would benefit most from actually gaining a choice in their education, are increasingly left behind. Some SSOs labor to bend and twist and spin results, but those are demonstrable facts. Without other considerations, simply raising the cap only delays that problem (and others) a few days or weeks.

    Georgia’s program has done much good and created new educational opportunities for many kids. Its structure has also led to several unintended consequences and abuses. Recent legislative changes have helped, but concerns linger even for the strongest choice supporters among us. As you work to grow the program this year, I hope you and your colleagues will consider other simple improvements to help ensure that kids with the greatest need aren’t overlooked.

    • I agree with you that we need to build into the program the ability for SSOs that rely on corporate donations to have access to the pool of money they need. Raising the cap will help in the short run but it will not address this long term problem.

      Late in the last session I introduced a bill to create a separate pool of money that would only accept corporate donations. I’ve been roundly criticized for introducing that bill – from supporters of the SSO program (who recently called my bill “crony capitalism”) , and opponents who think I want to destroy public schools.

      I do not plan to introduce that bill again and am working with the folks pushing for a cap increase but I want to see the issue I mentioned above addressed.

  10. Will Durant says:

    Buzz, I’m usually pretty competent at digging out numbers online. Like others here I have been stumped on trying to mine them from the state’s websites. What are the dollar totals of credits given to the cut outs, er, businesses and individuals by the state? Does it even total $58 million? In any case, regardless of the validity of the cause, how is this legally not considered to be a shell game?

    • Shell game? That’s a bit harsh. Government offers tax credits for all sorts of things. Are they all “shell games?” I reject your characterization of tax credits as shell games.

      As I understand it, when the Department of Revenue says the cap is reached it means individuals have filled out a form saying they have or will be some deadline, donated money to a qualified SSO and will claim the credit on their tax return. Every year there are people who end up not following through. Last year there was about $3 million left on the table so to speak. So yes, if people claim $58 million in credits, it means there was at least $58 million donated to the various SSOs. I say at least $58 million because corporate donors cannot claim 100% of their donation in certain circumstances.

      • Will Durant says:

        Your statement above: “There is no state money going to private schools in this program.” Please help me understand how it is not state money if I donate $2,500 to a private school and then I’m reimbursed the entire amount by the state.

          • Will Durant says:

            Your argument is not quite as specious as Pontius Pilate’s. Sorry, but we need less means for redirection of tax dollars via credits or even deductions, not more, no matter how good the cause.

  11. I’ll repost something I posted above: There are 13 styles of mustard at the grocery store down the street from me. The public demands and expects choices. Why should education be any different? And why should private schools only be available to wealthy people?

    Every time the issue of options for parents comes up, people on this website oppose it out of fear of what it will do to the traditional public schools. Should we prop up Blackberry because Apple created a device people like better? Should Grey Poupon be banned because of the impact their sales may have on French’s?

    • John Konop says:

      Buzz,
      I am talking about breaking down walls to become more efficient between state agencies….you seem to be for the same redundant bloated inefficient infrastructure….

    • gcp says:

      My objection is not ideological, its fiscal. This program pulls motivated kids out of public schools and sends them to private schools at taxpayer expense. If anything, it increases the cost to public schools which are now responsible for educating an even larger percentage of problem kids (non english speakers, mentally/physically disabled, behavior problems).

      Until there is a study which accounts for the inherent mandated disparities between public/private schools I just don’t see how the taxpayers save anything. But maybe the point of this whole thing is to create two systems; one public system with all the problem kids and a private system with all the motivated kids.

  12. Will Durant says:

    Buzz,
    I would like to go off topic just a bit here to let you know that while I may disagree with you on the methods or on some issues I do truly appreciate your presence here and willingness to mix it up in this forum. I’ve even spoke well of you to a couple of friends who live in your district, not that you have needed any of that as of late. Not many of our politicians are willing to face the dreaded anonymous blogger and you, Senator McKoon, and Ed Lindsey in particular should be cited for exhibiting the mettle seldom found in today’s politicians.

    I’m not saying this to suck up or sway opinion. I want all politicians to listen to their constituents but vote their convictions regardless of perceived votes or party. My hope is that participation in this forum helps some see beyond good intentions in some bills that sometimes go awry or have bad consequences. In particular, tax breaks are usually exploited in ways never dreamed of in their inception and many times by those who were not intended to get the breaks.

    • John Konop says:

      …. Not many of our politicians are willing to face the dreaded anonymous blogger and you, Senator McKoon, and Ed Lindsey in particular should be cited for exhibiting the mettle seldom found in today’s politicians….

      I agree, I like and give Buzz a lot of credit for facing tough questions!

      • Dr. Monica Henson says:

        I agree as well. There are very few folks in the blogosphere willing to post under their own names, and I commend all who do.

  13. abella30 says:

    Personally, I view education as a public good and not a commodity. I support freedom of choice as long as it is responsibly offered. Our society has too much at stake in the education of our young people to treat the choice & methods of education as being the same thing as choosing our laundry detergent. I couldn’t find information about how well children in the SSO programs are educated, how much of the scholarship money actually goes to low and middle income families, or whether the tax credit is being abused by donor families who then apply for the scholarships. It would also be good to understand where the schools receiving SSO scholarship children are located. Until I understand the answer to those questions, I really can’t say one way or another whether I support an increase to the SSO cap.

    Our education system is actually one of my pet peeves. I agree with another poster here that asked why we aren’t expanding programs that we know work instead of trying something new. I really don’t know why we don’t have College Paths, Vocational Training Paths, and Military Paths in all of our high schools. If students are disabled and unable to participate in those paths, then IEP and Vocational Rehab programs should be brought in to identify the best path for that child. Personally, I think every child should have access to a high school education that provides job skills/apprenticeship/training that would allow that student to work full-time at a gainful wage immediately after graduation.

  14. rossfromfriends says:

    How can we know if the program is working to get low-income children out of failing schools if the state doesn’t collect and publish the data? Correct me if I am wrong, but I couldn’t find reliable information detailing how much each school got, how many scholarships they gave out, or how many children actually took advantage of the scholarships. Do you have any links?

    Many schools already offer a set number of scholarships for low-income children; this program could just be funding those set scholarships, allowing money previously designated for scholarships to purchase BMWs for football players, couldn’t it?

  15. For statistics on scholarship recipients for three of the largest SSOs, Dr. Eric Wearne published this article (http://www.georgiapolicy.org/scholarship-groups-need-oversight-not-overregulation/) that also calls for improvements to the law.

    Here’s an article discussing the issue of fixed vs. variable costs, with a link to a more detailed study: http://www.georgiapolicy.org/does-school-choice-financially-impact-school-districts/

    The most recent numbers show that the average scholarship ($3,388) is nearly $8,000 less than total revenues per student ($11,345) in Georgia public schools and more than $1,000 less than state revenue per student $4,488).

    Georgia has a separate Special Needs Scholarship program that provides vouchers to students with special needs, who are clearly more expensive to educate.

    Arizona and Florida have created Education Savings Accounts for special needs student. We just released a study on this idea. Combining ESA’s with the tuition tax credit scholarships might actually be the best of both worlds. A small section at the end of the study discusses how this might work: http://www.georgiapolicy.org/foundation-study-finds-benefits-in-education-savings-accounts/

    • rossfromfriends says:

      My question is whether there is any evidence that the schools receiving scholarship money through this program have actually significantly expanded their scholarship offerings or whether, money being fungible, they have merely funded pre-existing scholarships and used the money for other purposes. There seems to be so little oversight that we can’t evaluate its effectiveness even if we do value school choice.

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