The Georgia House Education Committee introduced legislation to fund education savings accounts for qualifying parents. House Bill 60, or the “Georgia Educational Scholarship Act,” proposes granting certain state educational funds to parents directly rather than schools.
The bill would allow students with circumstances including poverty, foster care, active duty military parent(s), disability, bullying, or mandated distance learning to apply certain state educational funds to attend the participating school of their choice.
Sponsors on the bill are State Representatives Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), Rick Jasperse (R-Jasper), Heath Clark (R-Buford), Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), and Jodi Lott (R-Evans).
Opponents of the bill have argued that it would divest public schools of much-needed funds by causing students to flee certain public schools in droves, leaving some behind in a failing system. Some cited that Arizona’s Attorney General’s audits of the state’s voucher system proved “persistent” misuse of funds.
Jamie Lord, the Georgia Center for Opportunity Government Affairs consultant, explained to The Georgia Star News that similar legislative efforts – such as the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program – have proved that an exodus of students from public schools won’t occur due to education savings accounts.
“That [program] was [established in] 2007. We are now into 13 years of the program being active. There are less than 4,000 kids in it,” said Lord. “The year after that, we passed a tax credit scholarship program, and here again, 12 years later, there are maybe 15,000 kids in that program. Some of the reasons [those numbers are smaller] is because those programs have caps. It’s never going to be the majority of [students].”
Lord added that the bill would allow parents to choose what serves their children the best. All the more important, she added, in light of the strain imposed by the pandemic.
“We have invested significantly in public education. Many families, at the same time, aren’t actually benefiting from the education they feel entitled to,” stated Lord. “Part of that is the age-old understanding: one size doesn’t fit all, especially for families that have more than one child. We should be recognizing and accommodating that.”
Georgia’s State Field Director for American Federation for Children (AFC) Christy Riggins told The Star News that her regular work with parents revealed that many of them are on board with having more independence to coordinate their child’s education. According to Riggins, the desire for it has only increased because of the hardships and setbacks caused by virtual learning.
“It’s not that the public schools don’t want to help the kids – it’s that they have limited resources. The students have drastically different needs and are all spread out. The people who are best equipped to help their kids right now are the parents,” stated Riggins. “The harmful message is that we should hold on while they [the school systems] try to figure this [distance learning] out. Kids don’t have that time. Especially if you’re a little kid – every day is so precious. There’s so much happening developmentally [for them]. I think across the country, we are going to see terrible ramifications.”
Riggins added that families with trying circumstances such as lower income or special needs children have borne more burdens
“I spoke with one mom a couple months ago, where her kids can’t physically go into a classroom environment because she has lung disease, because there’s too much of a risk,” shared Riggins. “But they are in a very terribly low-income situation. The schools are trying to provide them with resources like laptops, but they’re older and are buggy. She basically has to go put on a hazmat suit to get them fixed. The resources for her needs to be met in that situation are limited.”
The bill has currently only gone through the House’s First Readers.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Georgia Star News and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Georgia Capitol” by DXR. CC BY-SA 4.0.