Few wrongdoers shouldn’t doom Georgia private school tax credit

I have a pro/con package today on the Georgia private school tax credit, which I split into two Get Schooled entries because of the lengths. This entry contains the pro piece by Eric Wearne, a senior fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

And here is a link to the opposing piece on the tax credit by Hank Klibanoff, co-author of  “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation,” and  Steve Suitts, vice-president of the Southern Education Foundation.

So, here is the pro piece:

By Eric Wearne

A recent New York Times article called into question practices resulting from tuition tax credit programs around the country, including in Georgia. That article spends a lot of column space discussing creationism and football when the discussion should really come down to two issues: Are needy students benefiting from the program, and is the program being administered appropriately?

The clearly accessible (though self-reported) data available online show the answer to both questions, at least for some of Georgia’s leading Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) – including the state’s largest – is yes.

The Arête Scholars Fund, for example, focuses explicitly on students with financial needs. In 2010-11 (the most recently reported data), Arête provided scholarships averaging $4,577. Students’ families had an average income of $30,000 and 90 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

The GRACE Scholars SSO, which provides scholarships to help students attend Catholic schools, was founded by the Catholic bishops of Georgia. The 437 scholarships awarded in 2011 averaged $2,151. Over a quarter of scholarship-receiving families were not Catholic, and the mean annual family income was $48,419 (almost exactly the point at which children from a family of five would be eligible for reduced price lunch in a public school). Over 93 percent of the SSO’s annual revenue went to scholarships – above the 90 percent required by law.

Finally, at the GOAL Scholarship Program, Georgia’s largest, representing 118 Georgia private schools, the data are even more striking. In 2011, 93.5 percent of annual revenues went to scholarships. GOAL provided over 2,500 scholarships during the 2011-12 school year, in an average amount of just over $3,800. Recipient families’ average adjusted gross income was $25,342 – just above the federal poverty rate for a family of four.

GOAL has taken a leadership role in transparency and is calling for other SSOs to do the same. For example, GOAL uses a “voluntary scholarship calculator” as a way to means test its awards. GOAL complies with and promotes model ethical principles and standards in the administration of its program, and publishes its financial and award data on its web site.

These are clearly sensible policies other SSOs could follow voluntarily now, or that the General Assembly could require without overly burdensome regulations.

Some practices at some schools accepting SSO scholarships may be violating the spirit, if not the letter of the law. This should be addressed by the SSOs’ boards, participating schools and, possibly, the Legislature. But it is still clear that absent this program, thousands of Georgia students would still be attending public schools their parents felt – for whatever reason – were not serving their children’s needs. And local public school systems would be shouldering the costs of those students.

The evidence is that:

According to publicly reported data, the average recipient of a scholarship from Georgia’s largest SSO, among several others, is a low-income student.

These same students’ parents choose to seek out help from SSOs to cover tuition costs at schools other than their assigned public schools, even when the awards fail to cover full tuition.

Even SSOs attached to particular religious faiths devote large percentages of the awards they make to students who do not share that faith.

Some SSOs have adopted practices on ethics in giving without being required to, have spoken out about unethical practices at other SSOs, and have even gone so far as to propose new legislation.

Ultimately, however, oversight over such a large and growing program should be improved.

When public school programs have problems (with standardized testing or construction projects, for example), no one seriously advocates shutting down the entire system. Rather, rules are tightened and improvements are made – sometimes at the local level and sometimes by the state. Enough individual SSO data should be published to show the public how SSOs manage their funding, and how their scholarships are awarded to ensure compliance with the law. That is a necessary change for accountability.

Thousands of Georgia taxpayers – more and more every year – have shown their support for school choice through their contributions. As with any public policy, Georgia should require transparency, maintain oversight to ensure compliance, then let the market work.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

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54 comments Add your comment

[...] is their piece and here is a link to the piece by Eric Wearne of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation in support of the program. By Hank Klibanoff and Steve [...]

Proud Teacher

June 11th, 2012
10:23 am

Public schools are financed with public money. Private schools should be financed with private funding. The government’s money is not a private fund. I believe there is a place and need for private schools (I include charters and magnets with this term) in our country, but I believe private schools should not be funded with public money. There needs to be a clearer division between church and state. The public schools do not have to be in this turmoil and decay. This could all have been avoided if the public schools had been allowed to hold and demand higher standards for the students and parents, and had been supported by those who think they are educators. Instead, we have this debacle. Someone provided a decent education and educational setting for most of us adults, now it’s our turn to use some common sense in this national nightmare.

Beth88

June 11th, 2012
10:30 am

Parents deciding how their own tax dollars are best spent educating their own kids are the future.

So give up, Maureen. Parents and taxpayers have waited patiently for DECADES as the public school education monopoly systematically cheated generation after generation of kids out of a decent chance in life.

Free choice is an option your side will now, finally, have to learn to live with.

catlady

June 11th, 2012
10:32 am

With the shroud of secrecy attached to this, how can anyone evaluate this program? How can anyone KNOW it is only a few schools not following the supposed “intent” of the law? It was designed this way FOR A REASON! and that reason is quite obvious. Shame on the legislators! Vote them OUT!

jd

June 11th, 2012
10:34 am

Hmmm– so, if someone in the university system misuses a credit card — it’s “Spend whatever it takes to make sure not 1 dollar is wasted this way” but, if it has to do with private schools — “Let the market handle — don’t bother these folks with your questions”. Why doesn’t GPPF condemn the new law making it impossible to request data for GOAL as an Open Records Request?

RambleOn84

June 11th, 2012
10:35 am

Less money for central office administrators, and more teachers in the classroom with better pay.

It’s not that difficult, people.

james

June 11th, 2012
11:01 am

If you want to attend Private or Charter Schools then you pay for it.
Its a simple as that!

One of the problems with public schools is they can’t seem to get
rid of bad teachers(see APS) and the other problem is bad parents who
shouldn’t have all these kids who are just sorry and no good….

skipper

June 11th, 2012
11:02 am

The right to a free public education did not mean it would morph into the cluster it has now become…..people deserve alternatives! APS is a FINE example of what is wrong today, as well as how to waste public money!

Shar

June 11th, 2012
11:10 am

All of the data relating to this program should be completely transparent, and Deal could make this happen with a swipe of his pen. He won’t, because too many of his supporters are taking this money to finance their decision to send their own kids to private school, and sending him a kissoff donation – that is tax-deductible, too.

There should also be an immediate end to automatic increases in the ceiling, unless there are also automatic, proportional increases in the budgets for K12 and the university system. To have guaranteed increases in a private school budget while continuing to degrade the state’s education spending is untenable.

The real answer is to improve public education above its current sorry state in Georgia, so that taxpayers feel they are getting a return on their investment and parents want to use the system. Two fast steps that could be taken on a fast track basis that might have immediate effects: Set a limit, calculated per child, for spending on non-student-facing personnel in systems above a certain size, and force parents (who are the primary beneficiaries of this public spending) to donate a certain number of hours at their child’s school, to show up for parent conferences and to come and sit in class with their child in the event of disruptive behavior.

Harriet

June 11th, 2012
11:16 am

Beth says “Parents deciding how their own tax dollars are best spent educating their own kids are the future” Would you like that decision to be on the local level? State level? National level?
Public education as we know it is not perfect. However, your energy, comments, and voting record should be directed at elected officials.And if all the parents worked as hard WITH their local schools, school boards and PTSAs then I believe we would see improvement. Instead, all I see is attack mode and ill-conceived plans to use tax dollars disproportionately to fund private choices. Do you believe in rule of the majority which is central to our system?

Jefferson

June 11th, 2012
11:23 am

Eliminate the tax credit and see who is REALLY charitable.

Living in an outdated ed system

June 11th, 2012
11:28 am

Thanks for finally publishing both sides of the issue.

sean Smith

June 11th, 2012
11:34 am

“Parents deciding how their own tax dollars are best spent educating their own kids are the future.”

Well as a gay man I dont have any kids. If your entitled to decide how your tax dollars are spent can I get a refund on mine since I am not burdening society with any children??? Seems only fair don’t you think?

JB

June 11th, 2012
11:41 am

First, what is wrong with combining public and private funds for education? It’s the model we use for university. It actually lessens the burden on the taxpayer, affords more choice for the student and has allowed more people to attend and graduate from college than ever before.

Second, perhaps we should re-frame the “public v. private” argument to “how do we give students access to the school that best meets their needs.” Some students may need more structure and discipline, while others work better with more flexibility. Some students may have specific learning disabilities, not easily addressed in a standard classroom. The idea that you attend a school based strictly on the location of your home, made sense for Little House on the Prairie, but seems ridiculous in modern society. Why not open school choice to all students and more funding options to the US school system?

Coach

June 11th, 2012
11:42 am

Is it “fair” for someone to pay for their child to go to a private school 100% from their own pocket because no other school in their area can meet standards and also pay thousands in school taxes to fund other peoples children to go to those same under performing schools they receive no services from?

Tommy Gunn

June 11th, 2012
11:43 am

If we follow the argument that as individuals we should decide how the tax money is spent, I want ALL public money used to enforce marijuana laws used for other things, an audit of all depts for over spending, and much more.

Just Sayin'

June 11th, 2012
11:44 am

No one broke into my home last year; is it “fair” for me to have to pay for police services that I have no need for?

Coach

June 11th, 2012
11:48 am

Are you really comparing police services to paying for educating someone else’s child? The fact that you do pay for police services is the very reason that no one has broken into your home, if it is worth breaking into to start with.

Miss Priss!

June 11th, 2012
12:04 pm

Sean, sweetie, if you had children … would yours burden society?

jd

June 11th, 2012
12:06 pm

You pay to educate someone else’s child because an educated citizenry is essential for the survival of the Republic (See T. Jefferson). Just like you pay for defense because industry alone cannot afford to pay.

RambleOn84

June 11th, 2012
12:07 pm

Yes, Coach, that is fair.

If you want the schools around you to improve, you can do your part by volunteering and sending your high-achieving child there.

Or you can sack up and pay for private school.

RambleOn84

June 11th, 2012
12:08 pm

With more parental involvement and support, these “failing” schools would be much better off.

But instead, many parents want someone else to fix the schools, someone else to deal with their children, and someone else to pay for their expensive private schooling.

School Choice is Not a One-Way Street

June 11th, 2012
12:11 pm

Any public money accepted by a private institution of
learning should require that institution to be subject to
the same level of testing accountability, and financial
oversight as public schools. Public schools need to
be given the same level of support, and flexibility to
make positive long term changes to meet the needs of
students.

Coach

June 11th, 2012
12:30 pm

Rambleon84 I never claimed my child was “high performing” but what he does have is discipline which is the reason he attends where he does. Discipline is what has been removed from our education system, not a lack of “high performing” children. I am a certified educator that has worked in Clayton and South Fulton so I know the kids are just as intelligent (sometimes even more) than the kids in private school. There is an acceptable behavior difference that makes people choose different. An allowance for this behavior without consequence is something I disagree with. I gladly pay for my choice, no problem there. I also have formed a non-profit that “volunteers” all of our time developing and implementing after-school programs in only public schools. 90% which are Title I. So I agree and I am making efforts to help change a broken government system. The only problem is this “fair” argument being thrown around. If you are 60, you don’t have to pay school millage rates even when 60 year olds might have kids in public school. I don’t use that service but I do pay. Hence a problem. Choice is not really choice. I can go somewhere else, but then I have to pay for both place anyway.

Shar

June 11th, 2012
12:40 pm

Yes, Coach, it is fair. It is a responsibility of citizenship to pay for certain government priorities, regardless of whether you agree with them. If I could decide to spend “my” tax money on things of my choice, we’d have great public transportation. Instead, I pay a surcharge for an inadequate system and I have to pay for my own car, too. I don’t get to choose to have a Rolls Royce and siphon money out of the general revenues to pay for it.

RambleOn84

June 11th, 2012
12:44 pm

Coach,
I am also an educator, and I understand and appreciate your situation. But I tire of people arguing what is “fair.”

As someone who has worked in the systems that you have, surely you know that parental involvement (or lack thereof) is BY FAR the most important factor in determining the level of success of individual students, and therefore, the school as a whole.

I just get tired of parents wanting to shuffle their children around to a “better” school, at the cost of taxpayers, with no admittance to the role they play in their students’ lives.

I don’t mean to imply that you are among these, by the way.

Follow the Course

June 11th, 2012
12:52 pm

All laws and rules are created for a few folks who take advantage of a situation. Why now worry about this?

A lot of good things have been destroyed or not allowed because of a few “wrongdoers” … that is just the way things are … get over it and move on …

Coach

June 11th, 2012
12:58 pm

Transportation tax pays for the road that you drive that car on, not just a bus and train to take you where you want to go. If you would rather have dirt roads, no stop signs or traffic lights, and have to cut the road through yourself, then by all means, drop the tax period. I am with you. We do have great public transportation already. But with school, it is MY responsibility to make sure MY child is educated. It is not yours, I don’t bring him to your house to do his homework. It is not your responsibility to raise, feed and educate my child is it? Just like it is not MY responsibility to raise, feed and educate yours. That includes PAYING for it. Should everyone else pay for MY son’s food, or clothing, or school, or his TV, or anything? I don’t think so. He is my responsibility which I understood before he was born. Should private schools get public funding, NEVER. But the reverse of that is the “FAIR” side nobody seems to discuss.

Thomas

June 11th, 2012
12:59 pm

Let’s remember that all these parents who choice to use their hard earned money in a way to improve there child’s chance at a better education…….one that the public school could only aspire to provide still pay there share of the school taxes for the community and Union driven school systems.

A school system that has been flawed for few generations and one no body is willing to improve. A system that has developed a county of citizens who can’t complete a world wide level anymore when it comes to science, math and technology.

yuzeyurbrane

June 11th, 2012
1:04 pm

The conservative foundation article uses enough weasel words to discredit its own points. First, it sets up as a strawman, two criteria which really have little to do with the flaws pointed out by the NY Times and others. Sure, some needy students are receiving scholarships and at least some of the tax money is being properly administered. But real analysis? The data is “self-reported”. In other words, “take our word for it”. By Georgia law, there is zero transparency as to how our taxpayer money is really being used. Nor does he really address the accusation that most of the recipients never actually attend 1 day of public school–I presume the silence is an admission that the argument about saving kids from failing public schools was false. As to the “statistics” used, “statistics lie and liars use statistics”. Or as someone once said, “there are lies, damn lies, and statistics”. For those of us who pay state taxes, we know that the income has to be considerable before you can get the $2,500 to $4,000 tax liability against which you are eligible to offset your private school tuition credit in the amounts cited. Obviously, the scholarships go to families of comparatively substantial means and the numbers cited by the article are simply “cooked” after the family CPA has had a chance to work them over. Open up your books to real scrutiny by outside auditors and journalists if you have nothing to hide. They won’t because powerful interests (namely, private schools, their patrons, churches and the emerging private school management industry) now depend on these tax subsidies to provide a significant part of their budgets (in their board room discussions, they don’t talk a lot about the needy students they are helping) and because others, for ideological reasons, simply hate “government” schools or government anything for that matter. So privatization including vouchers is there real goal. Why not be honest about it and have a real public debate instead of using slimy backroom politics?

Coach

June 11th, 2012
1:04 pm

Rambleon84,

I am sure that we are in agreement on very many things, especially seeing first hand what is really going on. Parents are not held accountable for the things you speak of, neither are the children. Individual responsibility (the lack thereof) is the cause of this entire argument and the cause of most problems we experience anyway.

Coach

June 11th, 2012
1:16 pm

More on topic, why would the government use taxes to send these children to private schools anyway? Is this an admission that their school model is not exactly where it needs to be? Should they not be using those same funds and efforts to reinvent their own system if they are saying themselves that private schools are a better alternative?

Shar

June 11th, 2012
1:58 pm

No, Coach, we all pay for certain things that benefit us all. That’s why Sean above, with no children of his own, must pay school taxes.

It is in the common interest to have an educated public. That is the rationale for using public money to pay for it. You may not send your own child to public school, but you rely on it for the workforce – and taxpayers – of this state and this country. Therefore, you pay for it. If you choose to send your child to a different school, you pay for that choice. You do not raid the coffers of the public to fund your desire for an alternative to the school provided.

This is a long way from saying that our public schools are doing the job we entrust to them. They are not, and I would agree with you that the preponderant reason for this is the utter failure of individual parents to be sure their children are prepared to learn. In my opinion, school assignments should be made not on geographic boundaries but on psychographic ones – parents and children who are willing to work, to behave, to do homework, to arrive on time, rested and healthy go to one system, parents and children who count on others to make up for their shortcomings in these areas go to another. However, I do not question my responsibility to pay for public education, and to pay with my own money, not my tax money, if I choose to quit my public school and go elsewhere.

Lee

June 11th, 2012
2:22 pm

Simple solution, if I send my child to an accredited private school, let me claim a state tax credit up to the amount the state provides to my county. This would be revenue neutral to the state and would be subject to audit as is every other tax deduction/credit by the taxpayer.

Coach

June 11th, 2012
2:53 pm

I have a long response to the collective benefit argument, however, I will just say that I disagree with the benefit part for the last 30 years. Continuing this broken path in our system will only continue the results we are getting in a much larger scale. I will leave it at the fact that I do NOT believe public funds should be used to send any child to private school. Do NOT. Not being key word. NOT. However I still say that argument is extremely one-sided and we are not equally contributing to educating our society as a whole. Some people pay a far greater price than others and that is never OK.

Welfare for the rich

June 11th, 2012
3:03 pm

How ridiculous — Lee, why should you get a tax credit when you choose to send your kids to another school? Do I get pay less for garbage when I choose to recycle? What about spending state or federal money on roads in Cobb county – I don’t travel in Cobb, where’s my rebate?

If you send your kid to private school, pay for it. Don’t expect welfare from the government.

Male Teacher

June 11th, 2012
3:08 pm

I graduated from a private school and I had a good experience,but let me tell you alot of wrongdoing goes on at private schools. It all comes down to who your father is and how much $$$ he donates. This is why private schools fear accountability.

Atlanta Mom

June 11th, 2012
3:09 pm

No matter how you feel about this law, the absolute lack of transparency concerning the disbursement of funds should be or concern to all.

RexDogma

June 11th, 2012
3:10 pm

Maureen, I disagree with you. This whole program is a sham and should be dismantled. They can make up their own data. Who knows? With all of the lost revenue with these tax credits the public schools have a tough time competing and oh maybe that is the goal of GA’s republican and the phone georgia center for public policy. If you want private school pay up like most people do.

Paulo977

June 11th, 2012
3:11 pm

Is this off topic?

Dekalb School Superintendent agrees to close FERNBANK Science Center !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Doesn’t anyone care?????????????????????
t

Coach

June 11th, 2012
3:12 pm

The only tax credit I would agree with would come straight off your property tax bill, because that is where you are charged it. It wouldn’t be a credit but more of an exemption for that portion of your school millage rate. That is a county thing, nothing to do with federal or state money. Of course I am not a fan of paying a fine or charging me to be employed anyway.

catlady

June 11th, 2012
3:12 pm

Georgia Public Policy Foundation=supporting public policy that helps the wealthy and politically connected. In other words, public policy for private entities’ enhancements.

3schoolkids

June 11th, 2012
3:13 pm

Wearne argues for oversight not overregulation. We tried that with charters and look what that got us. I’m not accusing all charters of being bad, but give some people an inch and they’ll take a mile. There is a reason blanket waivers are going away. Going down this road of little oversight and no accountability with SSOs will only lead to headlines about mismanagement of some SSO fund that leads to some private school distress or closing due to lack of scholarship money.

I would be interested to see how this program has impacted private school tuition. People play the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) when they are benefitting. If they thought the private school was increasing tuition in parallel with the influx of scholarship money they might not think it was so great.

Paulo977

June 11th, 2012
3:14 pm

jd

June 11th, 2012
12:06 pm

You pay to educate someone else’s child because an educated citizenry is essential for the survival of the Republic

_____________________________________

Could not have been put better!!!

Atlanta Mom

June 11th, 2012
3:17 pm

“of concern” not
“or concern”

Jefferson

June 11th, 2012
3:20 pm

Coach is like most GOPers they want everything but want it for free.

Coach

June 11th, 2012
3:24 pm

Again, not to get into my long response here, but it all depends on what that education consists of. If we are actually “educating” the “citizenry” to be a lazy, belligerent, undisciplined society that believes they are too good to labor and everyone will carry them so they don’t have to… How in the world is that “essential for the survival of the Republic”. Just as I am sure your affiliation says we need a new constitution because we have “evolved” I will agree that Jefferson is only correct if the system actually supports his theory. Of course he owned slaves also. Do you agree with everything the man thought and said?

Coach

June 11th, 2012
3:26 pm

Want it for free? That is hilarious. I want absolutely nothing for free. I want to work for it, and I want everyone else to work for it also. Sir you are very wrong to believe that I am part of the “GOP” establishment or mind set.

Coach

June 11th, 2012
3:31 pm

This is about our educational system and only our educational system. there are other blogs about politics and it is obvious that I said I do NOT agree with using public money to send any child to a private school MULTIPLE times.

3schoolkids

June 11th, 2012
4:23 pm

This is one of the first websites that came up when I searched Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program:

http://www.pcsoxford.org/GivingtoPCS/GeorgiaGoalScholarshipProgram.aspx

It tells donors to send checks directly to the school for forwarding to Georgia GOAL. The page tells donors “redirect a portion of your Georgia income tax payments to benefit … School students!” Completely in violation of the spirit of the legislation and the mission statement of Georgia GOAL.