Make the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship more transparent — and expand it so more children benefit

Adam Emerson is the director of the program on parental choice at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank that recently released “School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?”

Adam Emerson

Adam Emerson

In this piece, Emerson urges more transparency in how Georgia’s controversial private school scholarship tax credit program works. In what he calls a “grand bargain,” Emerson proposes, “More transparency in exchange for more (or more generous) scholarships.”

By Adam Emerson

The Georgia Senate recently took an incremental step toward responsible and accountable private school choice by unanimously passing a bill that shines more sunlight upon the Peach State’s embattled tax credit scholarship program. If the House concurs, then parents and taxpayers will have more information about the students and the scholarship groups that participate.

But Senate Bill 243 doesn’t go far enough. Yes, it requires the nonprofit groups that administer the scholarships to disclose the number of students they serve and the amount of tax-credited donations that they receive. Well worth making public—but it reveals nothing about the program’s educational value.

Why not also pull back the curtain on student performance? Most of the school voucher and tax credit scholarship programs in existence in other states are designed to show the public at least how they’re performing overall in terms of student achievement.

For example, private schools participating in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administer a standardized test to their scholarship students and report the results to an independent analyst who studies the effectiveness of the program and reports to the state legislature.

For a quartet of reasons, Georgia should at least do something similar.

1. Parents, policy makers, educators and the taxpaying public deserve to compare the gains that students make in different school environments. Ideally, comparisons should be made from school to school, but Georgians can’t even make comparisons between the public, charter and voucher-accepting private sectors of K-12 education.

2. Academic accountability would go a long way to quieting some of the more vocal critics of the Georgia program who assert that lawmakers and advocates for school choice haven’t cared about the standards or performance of the schools accepting the scholarship. Researchers who have studied the nation’s oldest voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, have found that the mere public release of test results played a role in the gains voucher students made there.

3. Few of the private schools that take part in the program would flee from it, even if they faced a testing-and-public-disclosure requirement. A recent study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute surveyed private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs and found that only 3 percent of non-participating schools cited governmental regulations as the most important reason to opt out. Regulations that restrict student admissions and schools’ religious practices are more likely to deter school participation than are requirements pertaining to academic standards, testing and public disclosure of achievement results.

4.  It lays the groundwork for a grand bargain: More transparency in exchange for more (or more generous) scholarships. Georgia students would benefit from a more generous program, but Senate Bill 243 maintains the current cap on the amount of tax credits awarded—about $50 million. The Legislature could raise that ceiling while insisting on greater transparency of the program’s effectiveness.

Indeed, families have expressed great satisfaction with the program and, undoubtedly, more would opt for the scholarship if given the chance. But are satisfied customers enough? Do these private schools teach their children anything? And does their performance compare favorably with students with students who remain in public schools. Right now, we don’t know.

And we should. The Legislature ought to pass Senate Bill 243 for the transparency it does provide. But it should ask for more while loosening the limits on the program to serve more families.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

49 comments Add your comment

Don't Tread

March 19th, 2013
11:23 am

“But Senate Bill 243 doesn’t go far enough”

I’ll agree with you on that. We need a full-blown voucher program so that the parents [that care] have the opportunity to send their kids to the school of their choice.

catlady

March 19th, 2013
11:29 am

I don’t mind people taking advantage of this AFTER their taxes are paid. That is, they should not be allowed to shift the payments for roads, bridges, jails, courts, and other state functions to the rest of us. After they pay the $10,000 per person per year (or whatever it takes to pay for the necessary functions of government), THEN if they want to kick in $5,000 extra for a private school scholarship fund to be given to whomever, we should give them an “atta boy!” Maybe publish their names in the paper. But not until AFTER they pay their share of the “regular” expenses we all have to pay! No shifting!

10:10 am

March 19th, 2013
11:33 am

Sounds reasonable enough, especially if paired with an expansion of this popular tax credit program.

Not sure who sees that program as “controversial,” unless Maureen means the usual liberal suspects gathered around teachers’ union (and AJC) water coolers. Perhaps the value of Mr. Emerson’s suggestions can be gauged by the vehemence with which they are attacked below by our anti-choice, anti-reform friends.

Mountain Man

March 19th, 2013
11:38 am

Catlady at 11:29 am – I agree 100%. Or at least just make the contributions DEDUCTIBLE rather than a credit!

atlmom

March 19th, 2013
11:38 am

Just thought of a question, which I do not know the answer too…

Are charter schools allowed to take this money? That would seem – a great thing to do….right? They already get less money from government sources…

Bob

March 19th, 2013
11:49 am

@catlady “After they pay the $10,000 per person per year (or whatever it takes to pay for the necessary functions of government), THEN if they want to kick in $5,000 extra for a private school scholarship fund to be given to whomever, we should give them an “atta boy!” Maybe publish their names in the paper.” Catlady, does everyone pay $10,000 per person per year to pay for the necessary function of gov now ? Does everyone have to pay this or just the parents that know private school is better than public.

Georgia citizen & taxpayer

March 19th, 2013
11:49 am

Raise the cap BEFORE knowing what is really going on with this program? No way!

Simmer Down

March 19th, 2013
12:13 pm

No need to test to see the results. We already know the answer… 3/4 of the private schools are still better than the best public. While you spend your days crying over the state of your local schools and school board the private school kids are moving along nicely.

Pride and Joy

March 19th, 2013
12:18 pm

Best comment yet “Catlady, does everyone pay $10,000 per person per year to pay for the necessary function of gov now ? Does everyone have to pay this or just the parents that know private school is better than public.”
Exactly. Many South Dekalb and South Atlanta families pay zero taxes. They TAKE TAKE TAKE and don’t give.
Transparency, though, should be complete in all government entities including PUBLIC SCHOOLS and PUBLIC SCHOOL BOARDS.
Before we beat up charities for offering scholarships to kids we need to ensure our elected officials in Dekalb and APS are spending money wisely and efficiently.
Transparency is needed for ALL, not just charities.

living in an outdated ed system

March 19th, 2013
12:26 pm

Adam makes excellent points which I wholeheartedly support. Georgia needs to keep improving the program and perhaps incorporate some of these best practices into future amendments to the statute.

Georgia

March 19th, 2013
12:28 pm

Will the real 47% please stand up? (We are standing).

catlady

March 19th, 2013
12:32 pm

No, Bob, everyone should have an amount they are expected to kick in, per person, to run the state, or a percentage of income. I don’t know what that number is. But NO ONE should get a pass on paying for the necessary functions of government. If they are low income, it should be a lesser amount, but the same percent, but taking into account the value of benefits they already get. (ie, if they get $400 per month in food stamps, that should count as $4800 in income) In fact, there should not be any deductions for anything, and all income counted, no matter its source. That is my opinion.

I do not think the burden for paying for state government should be shifted away from some, and toward others!

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
12:36 pm

“Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank”

WHILE WE’RE AT IT, LET’S CHECK OUT MR. EMERSON’S OWN 501C3 CHARITY.
If everyone home schooled, his “think tank” would be irrelevant. THINK OF ALL THE TAX DOLLARS WE WOULD SAVE!

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
12:55 pm

AS A 501C3, HERE IS WHAT FORDHAM INSTITUTE USES YOUR TAX DOLLARS FOR:

“Smart Accountability
Since 2005, one of Fordham’s top priorities has been to move the country toward high-quality national standards and tests. 2010 was the year this effort began to
bear fruit in the form of the Common Core State Standards, now adopted by 44 states plus the District of Columbia.”

Personally, I’d like to see their 501c3 SHUT DOWN! As a home schooler, I’m tired of this WASTE of my tax dollars. I’m already paying for public schools. NOW I’M SUPPOSED TO PAY FOR SOMEONE TO “CRITIQUE” THEM AS WELL? HELLO!

Here’s their 2010 Annual Report:
ht tp://www.edexcellencemedia.net/marketing/Fordham%20Annual%20Report.pdf

Bernie

March 19th, 2013
12:58 pm

Georgia Republican political Shenanigans and Trickery usually comes in the form of Tax Credits designed only for those who have Accountants and Tax Lawyers at Hand. This is purposefully done so in a way to insure those more affluent georgia residents get the edge of their Poorer counterparts.

The confusing and complicated wording is to insure their Children,friends and family TAKE the credit and GET the advantage of the SCHOOL CHOICE OPTION FIRST.

In Southern speak it says “YOU had BETTER HURRY UP and Get this TAX CREDIT we are giving to YOU for your Child’s education, so that WE CAN FILL OUR SCHOOLS FIRST, Before the rest of em, figures this thing OUT! If our SCHOOLS are FULL, They will have to GO somewhere ELSE and START THEIR OWN!…. wink!…. wink!”

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
1:03 pm

10:10, Are you one of those internet workers being paid by a foundation, being paid $.50 every time you mention “union” in a post? Sher is nice weather today and the birds are singing, except for the union people hanging around the water cooler.

Invoice Due: March ‘13. 245 anti-union references posted: $122.50 invoice due.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
1:05 pm

“Just got new tires today at Sam’s Club. Was a great time except for having to listen to the union member on their phone trying to salvage their sorry performance at work.”

$.50 (recorded on ledger)

living in an outdated ed system

March 19th, 2013
1:25 pm

@truth, can you respond to the merits of Adam’s argument, not bash all of Adam’s affiliations? That is a typical tactic of the NEA and similar groups. You can’t weigh the opinion on the merits. It’s very disrespectful and not adding to the intellectual discourse on this blog or any blog.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
1:41 pm

@living in an outdated ed system
LOL! I AM responding using THE VERY ARGUMENTS HE MAKES. I am just applying them in his own backyard. It’s called “blind justice”.
And which 501c3 are YOU shilling for today?

living in an outdated ed system

March 19th, 2013
1:49 pm

Why don’t you respond to each of his points substantively? There are only four. Your points are only serving to take @Maureen’s blog post and take it on an unnecessary tangent. She has asked everyone to respond to the letter which seeks to add even more transparency to a bill that was already passed the senate 54-0. I don’t typically “call out” a specific blogger on here, but your comments were out of line. The Fordham Institute has some outstanding research on public policy in education, and they just published a book about 21st century education governance, which should be read by the entire Dekalb School Board! You may not agree with their POV, but to knock an organization just because it is “reform-minded” or has garnered interest from one political party or another is nonsensical.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
1:58 pm

“Maureen’s blog post and take it on an unnecessary tangent.”

I have had plenty of my posts in “moderation”. If the post is still up, Maureen or someone approves.
You seem to have a problem with the First Amendment. If I am so off base, others will ignore my post.
DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!
ht tp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02zOk_LQCkY

presschkr

March 19th, 2013
2:01 pm

Let’s get accountability and testing parity and spend a year seeing what this program does before we raise the cap. The state has allowed $170 million to be deferred to this program since 2008 without providing ANY accountability AT ALL. In fact, the program makes disclosure of basic information a crime. So let’s see where the money is going and whether the students are benefiting.
For those that claim the program saves the states money, let’s call for a fiscal note, audit or study to determine the costs (or savings) to the state of the program and then consider whether to increase the cap. When every other department in the state is taking cuts, how could the legislature or Governor even consider raising the cap on this program.
Let’s get information to know whether we can raise it later.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
2:16 pm

@press cheka

The public schools DO have accountability and they have FAILED!
DO I GET MY TAX DOLLARS BACK? My home schoolers would like to take a few field trips abroad and upgrade their Mac Pro’s.

mathmom

March 19th, 2013
2:16 pm

Better yet, let’s keep the smartest, most motivated students in the public schools and demand that students who do not succeed academically be moved, at their parents’ inconvenience and expense, to special schools or, here’s an idea, apprenticships.

DeKalb Inside Out

March 19th, 2013
2:17 pm

What’s more important, effective governance or student achievement? Don’t tell me they’re strongly correlated because SACS put the University of Virginia on probation for poor governance and leadership.

10:10 am

March 19th, 2013
2:17 pm

@ Puerile Citizen:

Like most readers I’ve been glad to see somewhat less of you on the blog lately. Why not make it a habit?

@Bernie:

NOT sure WHAT you MEAN, but THAT’S rarely NECESSARY when IT comes TO your RAMBLINGS. After ALL — neither DO you. Are YOU by ANY chance RELATED to @Puerile Citizen?

JUST wondering.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
2:26 pm

In case you are wondering……
I OFTEN TYPE IN ALL CAPS SO THAT ANYONE OVER 55 CAN READ AND HEAR MY COMMENTS.

Now, how many of you bloggers have shown the same courtesy?

Concerned Taxpayer

March 19th, 2013
2:27 pm

@10:10 am – I think the concept of the program is good but no true fiscal conservative can agree with the way the program is administered. I’m not even opposed to expanding the program. All I have ever asked for is accountability. I want to know where my tax dollars are going and how that money is being spent. Right now the accounting of tax monies in the program is a sham and the changes proposed do nothing to let the tax payers know how this money is being spent.

It befuddles me how any tax payer can think this is a good idea. What if these private schools are using this money for other purposes such as to pay their teachers or the power bill or even contributing to the very legislators that created the law. We have no way of knowing. You don’t know! No one does and that is stupid. Because when this much money is available without any oversight someone will take it.

We need a public audit of every school participating today!

yuzeyurbrane

March 19th, 2013
2:36 pm

The writer doesn’t get it nor does the legislature. Or do they? The key complaint is that the whole program is a classic bait and switch deal. It was sold as a way to save kids from failing public schools but most students never even actually attended a public school. Nor are most low income. The program as designed is simply a way to funnel scarce public tax money to private and parochial schools to fatten their budgets and secondarily to help kids who would probably attend anyway. There is no transparency on this point and there would still be no transparency on it even if the Senate bill became law. As to academic performance, since the private schools get to cherry pick who gets the scholarships I would only assume that their academic performance would be higher than the average disadvantaged public school student. As they say in the Navy, big f****** deal. The moral outrage is that even 1 tax dollar is diverted from public education at a time many Georgia public schools cannot even afford to maintain a full school year. Let’s get that in order first and then let’s have an honest open public discussion and referendum vote on school vouchers which is what the writer and others who support this ruse really want.

Clutch Cargo

March 19th, 2013
2:37 pm

I hope that the legislature slow walks this idea to fruition. I hope that they study it to death (just writing an ethics policy for the study commission should kill a couple of years) and then argue the merits endlessly. I hope this because every day that the sun comes up with more students being educated by private,church affilliated and charter schools is another small victory over the education mafia that want to stick those students back under their corrupt thumbs.We are creating an entire generation of well educated good citizens that would never be satisfied with half-vast public schools and will always demand better. It’s intoxicating!

Mountain Man

March 19th, 2013
2:38 pm

“The state has allowed $170 million to be deferred to this program since 2008 ”

And since the State is not allowed to run a deficit and taxes have not been raised, then some other part of State government spending has been cut – would the State please detail where the cuts were to offset this $1709 million?

Mountain Man

March 19th, 2013
2:39 pm

Sorry, $170 million

Jessica

March 19th, 2013
2:45 pm

If families are getting tax credit for private school tuition, can I get credit for my kids’ homeschool expenses (books, supplies, field trips)? That seems fair.

Georgia

March 19th, 2013
3:11 pm

New trolls. Registration countdown. Out of Bookman’s butt has come flying monkey trolls onto the Downey blog. I refuse to engage. These things have to be handled………delicately.

But the whole idea of a think tank is humor proof. Seinfeld tried it. Failed. I’ve been trying to write a joke about think tanks for fifteen years and cant. It’s. just. not. funny.

Bernie

March 19th, 2013
3:12 pm

10:10 am @ 2:17 pm – Surely, YOU cannot be that STUPID!…But then, I have been WRONG before!

atlmom

March 19th, 2013
3:17 pm

Unfortunately we are coming to this:

http://www.examiner.com/article/u-s-attorney-general-says-homeschooling-is-not-a-fundamental-right#

In any event – I am pretty sure those private schools are spending money better than the public schools – even without an audit. Why is it so hard for people to believe this? I understand wanting an audit of the money – sort of. The audit was already done by the taxpayers who direct their money to those schools. Does it matter – really – what exactly the money is used for? If a school is already on the ‘cleared’ list – then they are cleared. It is EXACTLY like the GA PreK program, right?
You pick a school – based on the fact that the state will give the money – and you put your child there, and the state gives the money (it works slightly differently, but it is basically the same).
SAME THING with ANY school that gets federal funds (like, say, the GI bill) – any college out there gets ‘approved’ and then the feds give those schools the money (or, say, the HOPE scholarship, ahem).

If you’re not on the approved list – you have to apply, and you may or may not be accepted. If you’re accepted – how much more state money do people want to spend auditing these schools? Really?

(hint: not every school makes it – you have to be a school, to start with).

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
3:21 pm

@Jessica

If you are a true home schooler, you would not want a dime of the tax money. Money from vouchers will always have government strings. This is why this group set up the scholarships as a TAX CREDIT.
This is why the Foundations/Institutes/educrats are hoppin’ mad. They can’t attach strings. So, they are campaigning to change it to VOUCHERS so that they can control the private schools. IT WOULD BE THE SAME FOR HOME SCHOOL.

The true solution, is to OVERTURN THE COMPULSORY EDUCATION LAW. This is the ONLY legal basis for public schools! They are not listed in the Constitution! With the BILLIONS SAVED, everyone could have a quality home or private school. THERE WOULD BE LITTLE INCENTIVE TO ENTER THE COUNTRY ILLEGALLY IF THEY HAD TO PROVIDE THEIR OWN EDUCATION. The corruptocrats would be out of a job IMMEDIATELY. All the problems discussed on this blog would be gone, as well as the unqualified teachers. Excellent educators will always be in demand as private tutors or private school teachers. If all the “mom” teachers stayed home and taught their own children, the job market would improve for the MEN. Our nation’s morals would be reinstated, and the freeloaders would be out of luck. We could send them to Mexico! Reverse immigration. Solving our education problems isn’t hard.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
3:39 pm

@atlmom

It is well known that HITLER implemented the no-home school law in Germany. I guess I’m not surprised that Atty. Gen. Holder, HOLDS THE SAME VIEW.

This should be a wake-up call for ALL citizens. Where will you flee? I am amazed at how many former public school teachers now home school! Just 10 years ago, it was quite a different story. Now they can see the words of the prophets coming true.

Private Citizen

March 19th, 2013
3:49 pm

That guy Holder is way creepy. He seems to have bought into the concept of having dictatorial powers. It is rather fantastic how the general economy is tanked and it just seems like the public has been put to sleep.

atlmom

March 19th, 2013
3:59 pm

And remember – all those people making those laws have school choice (Obama’s kids go to private school).

Bernie

March 19th, 2013
4:15 pm

atlmom @ 3:59 pm – YEP! Private School, just like everyone else on Captial Hill, Republican and Democract ALIKE and along every other President excuding, Jimmy Carter. I think AMY CARTER, went to Washington DC, public schools for a short period of time.

Your Bias is SHAMELESS in its delivery!

atlmom

March 19th, 2013
4:29 pm

Bias? Huh? How so? Clinton’s daughter went to private school too.
I don’t get what you mean…?

atlmom

March 19th, 2013
4:39 pm

THE POINT is that ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE who are writing these laws —HAVE SCHOOL CHOICE.

Just like the fact that they excluded themselves from the obamacare bill – THEY DO NOT USE THE SCHOOLS.
BUT they will force you to!

Dewey Cheatham & Howe

March 19th, 2013
5:12 pm

“If families are getting tax credit for private school tuition, can I get credit for my kids’ homeschool expenses (books, supplies, field trips)? That seems fair.”

That is actually a very good idea. I recall a couple of years ago that teachers got some tax break/puppy treat for buying supplies out of pocket.This does seem only equitable.

Change Agent

March 19th, 2013
5:26 pm

The Student Scholarship Organization (SSO) redirects taxpayer monies from vital government services such as education, mental health support, roads, transportation, etc.It allows a taxpayer to send money to a preferred private organization instead of paying his/her fair share of taxes first to state coffers. I can see how anyone who supports a charity would like this arrangement. The plusses are there is no accountability, no transparancy and you use tax money that otherwise would have gone to state projects you have no control over. How can I divert my tax dollars to projects I choose?

Bernie

March 19th, 2013
6:09 pm

atlmom @ 4:39 pm – Pray Tell, who is forcing whom? We have school choice already. Its been for years! you either send your child to public schools or you choose a private school of your own choice and YOU PAY the Tution!

There is never been any changes in that formula! If you do not like what is being served to you at a lower cost. By All means you have the RIGHT to seek that same service, where ever you may find it. That has always been the American way.

Truth in Moderation

March 19th, 2013
11:54 pm

Well, here’s a 501c3 that looks like it is actually helping students! I’m impressed with their work…
ht tp://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=FO1W7iXTSQE

Temple Grandin is my hero! She has so much wisdom! Please watch her presentation on autism. Many of her observations can be applied to “regular kids” as well. The movie about her life is excellent and well worth your time.
ht tp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YcXFPejmto

atlmom

March 20th, 2013
12:03 am

bernie: but only SOME PEOPLE can afford to send their kids to the private school.

oldschool doc

March 20th, 2013
1:13 pm

This program should yearly post the amounts and the names of families that benefit from the program. As with any charity, we the taxpayers should know what percent of funds actually go to children that need it.

I want to know when we can set up SSO”s for my local public schools to offset the millions we have not received over the years. Don’t tell me the schools don’t need more money– My kids would thrive in a school with student teacher ratios of 6-1. Instead they sit there BORED most of the day because the teacher has to get honey-boo-boo up to par.

Let’s face it, people turn out babies they have no ability/interest in raising well. These kids still go to school– and they need more at school. Smaller classes are the way to go. How is Kindesi doing?