I never understood the Legislature’s timing or rationale for pushing through its private school tax credit program two years ago other than lawmakers were too afraid to embrace vouchers wholeheartedly so they took a smaller step in that direction. (Polls still show low public support for vouchers.)
Here are two points of view on this. (Both were op-eds that we published last year.) First in favor, State Rep. David Casas of Lilburn:
That’s the beauty of the new tuition tax credit program. It is not a voucher program with strict government rules on how each organization should be governed. Instead, it allows charitable money to flow freely to these organizations that set their own bylaws and choose which families they would like to assist in seeking more choice in Georgia.
The law does not specify how long a student has to be enrolled in a public school before qualifing for a tuition tax credit scholarship — and that’s a good thing. Some children enroll in public schools and find their school, classroom, curriculum or teacher is not a good fit. This tax credit offers hope that some children, such as those in failing schools, may search for a way out as soon as they need it. There are no arbitrary rules of how long they must endure a bad situation.
With the recession, donations to the tax credit program and SSOs have been lower than first anticipated. Couples may donate up to $2,500 annually; individuals can take a $1,000 tax credit off taxes due the state if they donate to an SSO. Corporations can reduce up to 75 percent of their taxes due the state if they make a charitable gift to one to of these scholarship organizations.
Since the program is gaining popularity, it’s possible the General Assembly will consider making it available to any student, not just those in public schools , as the economy recovers. After all, it’s really in the spirit of giving, no different than if taxpayers wanted to reduce their tax burden because they gave money to the University of Georgia or a homeless shelter.
At some point, public school administrators are going to get it. This is not about publi schools versus private. It’s about parents and giving them the chance to find the best educational setting for their child. Parents, after all, know what’s best for their children. The tuition tax credit program is a child-centered education platform that puts power and choice back in the hands of parents.
And here on the opposite side is Tim Callahan of PAGE :
The sponsors of this legislation emotionally introduced it by expressing their concerns about the poor and underprivileged children they could “rescue” from failing public schools. If these legislators had a lengthy track record in support of poor and underprivileged families and their children it might come as news to other legislators, public agencies and social service advocates who have been about this work for many years. But that aside, what is the public benefit to create a tax-funded program that might help one or two children in a given publi school that is not succeeding with several hundred students?
As they cut funds from all publi schools ($1.7 billion in austerity cuts at last count) do legislators actually think programs such as tuition tax credit scholarships create a net benefit? Might it not be better to legislate and fund in such a way that we come to the aid of all public school students who are struggling?
My conservative friends often quote Winston Churchill, so here’s one for them: “The American people always do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” Perhaps when our leaders have exhausted the other possibilities they’ll come back to support the schools where 1.6 million of our students spend every day
According to the AJC story today:
A two-year-old program allowing Georgians to redirect part of their state income taxes to private school scholarships is sending millions of dollars to some of the state’s most exclusive academies, and more private schools are signing up to participate.
Westminster Schools, Woodward, Pace, Paideia and other elite schools say they are adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to their financial aid coffers — more than $1 million in the case of Westminster — through the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
The program provides a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to people or corporations who donate to scholarship funds earmarked for use by a specific school. The school then uses the money to offer tuition aid to a public school student seeking to switch.
Some private schools that had been reluctant to join the program are joining, saying they can’t afford not to amid tough economic conditions and growing demand for financial aid. More than 300 now participate statewide.
Today’s AJC story has stirred up a lot of people, including this reader who sent me this note:
This morning, in the AJC, I read an article about the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program. This subsidizing of private schools infuriates me. Is there some redeeming value to this program that I’m not seeing? Helping the private schools diversify doesn’t count…let them do that on their own steam!I would like to find out which legislators send their children to private schools. Is there a way to do that? Would it not be considered a conflict of interest if a legislator who sends his/her children to private school voted for this program? Do you know if other states have a program like this one? I would be interested to know which ones.
So, I am throwing out this reader’s questions to all of you on both sides of this question. (And yes, there were legislators with kids in private schools who voted for this program.)