Georgia GOP pushes to pass school voucher bill this year

The Georgia Department of Education classified 175 low-income public schools as failing in 2022. The next year, that number increased to 189, leaving legislators scrambling to find a solution. Georgia Senate Bill 233 aims to level the playing field and give children in struggling public schools the opportunity to attend private schools.

The proposed bill, which failed to pass back in March 2023, initially aimed to give $6,500 vouchers to families of students who attended any Georgia public school. The money was to be put toward either the cost of private school or home-schooling. Gov. Brian Kemp publicly endorsed the bill last year.

“Senate Bill 233 is a very clear effort to divert public state dollars towards funding private schools,” said Jeff Hubbard, President of the Cobb County Association of Educators. “The St. Pius’s, the Woodward Academies, the Marist Schools of the world. These are the types of schools that legislators want to be the focal point in Georgia education.”

“The writing surrounding this bill is about as clear as mud, and that’s intentional.”
Jeff Hubbard, president, Cobb County Association of Educators

After the bill originally failed to pass, legislators attached a new amendment to the bill: vouchers would only be given to students attending the bottom 25% of public schools. A public school in Georgia is considered “failing” or “passing” based on its College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores. Additionally, parents would not have immediate access to the voucher funds in order to prevent improper use of the money.

The CCRPI is used to evaluate how well schools in Georgia are preparing their students for life after high school. Scores that are not meeting standards indicate the school is failing to provide its students with a quality education.

The estimated budget for SB 233 is around $200 million.

The bottom 25% of Georgia’s public schools are located in 20 counties. This includes 26 schools in DeKalb, 21 in Richmond and 14 in Bibb County, with another 27 in Atlanta Public Schools.

If the bill is passed, public schools will lose a portion of their student body, allowing the existing budgets to be allocated proportionally to the students who stay enrolled.

Jeff Hubbard said the logic behind the bill is flawed.

“The writing surrounding this bill is about as clear as mud, and that’s intentional,” he said. “What a lot of people fail to realize is that the average cost of private school in Georgia is close to $12,000, but that number can vary drastically. The voucher only provides a small portion of money towards the tuition with no way to cover the difference. The people eligible for the vouchers would already be coming from areas riddled with poverty, so how is that parent going to come up with that extra $5,000?”

Opponents of the bill said there is a potential flaw with the voucher program regarding special education support and needs.

Even though the voucher provides $6,500 towards tuition, families must still cover the remaining balance of the tuition. Essentially, the voucher acts as an annual coupon, leaving the cost differences up to the family to cover.

While some private schools in Georgia like Wesleyan School in Peachtree City offer tuition payment plans, families typically receive no help outside the voucher to cover costs. For context, the Wesleyan School’s tuition ranges from $22,395 to $30,555, depending on the child’s grade level.

“Personally, while I am supportive of responsible parental choice in education, I am concerned that SB 233 is an expensive option that will not provide meaningful options for parents,” said Ken Zeff, District 3 representative of Atlanta Public Schools.

Opponents of the bill said there is a potential flaw with the voucher program regarding special education support and needs. Individualized education programs (IEPs) cater to students who need additional support outside of classroom learning. In public schools, IEPs are funded by the state government and every qualified student is entitled to one.

Private schools are not obligated to provide this service. Once a parent accepts the voucher, they effectively lose all protection for their child.

Despite strong opposition toward passing the bill, there are people who feel they would benefit from access to vouchers. James Rice and his son Tony reside in Clarke County. Tony is in fifth grade and attends Gaines Elementary School.

“Tony is a rockstar in the classroom,” Rice said. “He’s always been into reading books and you can tell he just loves learning. His teacher calls him ‘Google’ because he always knows some fun facts.”

Parental choice is the main hallmark behind the bill.

Although his son is succeeding in the classroom, Rice wants more for his son and doesn’t think Gaines Elementary School is pushing him hard enough.

“I want to send him to Athens Academy, but I can’t get my head over that tuition,” he said. “I’ve heard about the Georgia Promise Scholarship, and man, I was gunning for it to pass because it would give my son the opportunities I never had.”

The tuition at Athens Academy ranges from $10,375 for kindergarten to $22,975 for high school.

Stories like James Rice’s are why Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming) regards SB 233 as the “most significant parental choice legislation in state history.” He said choice is the main hallmark behind the bill and its main goal is to put the power in the hands of the parents to keep their kids on the right track.

Cobb County Association of Educators President Jeff Hubbard said legislators are putting their efforts in the wrong place.

“What needs to happen is that Georgia legislators need to look at Senate Bill 284 … which will actually provide additional funding for those schools in poverty,” Hubbard said.


This story was originally published by Fresh Take Georgia.

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