Georgia Senate GOP drops the ball (again) on school choice

Georgia’s senators spent close to three hours Wednesday — the all-important Crossover Day when legislation either passes one chamber or waits till next year — debating whether to let people buy beer at the grocery store on Sunday or only at the restaurant two storefronts down.

Actually, that’s not quite right. They spent the time making the choice to give local governments the choice to give voters, in a referendum, the choice to approve an ordinance affording grocery stores, convenience stores or package stores the choice of selling alcohol on Sundays to consumers who make the choice to purchase such goods.

Choice, choice, choice, choice, choice.

In the end, it passed. It wasn’t really close.

And then shortly after lunch, Majority Leader Chip Rogers could only stand and criticize his fellow senators for being afraid of giving school choice to more students and parents. It took a lot less than three hours.

This was the second straight year that Rogers has tried to extend school vouchers, now available only to children with disabilities, to foster-care students and kids with a parent in the military. It’s the second year the measure failed to get a majority of the votes in a state Senate controlled by the Republican Party. You know, the party that claims to champion the common-sense principle of school choice.

As Rogers spoke, a couple of Democratic senators passed the time playing Scrabble and Solitaire on their laptop computers. But while I think their party ought to be on board with a policy that by and large would help middle- and lower-income kids, I’m not so upset with them for being closed-minded about the issue. That’s because, unlike Republicans, they don’t belong to a party that claims to support school choice. For their sake, and for yours, here’s what Rogers had to say:

He pointed to charts showing how poorly American 12th graders fare on math and science tests compared to their international peers: almost dead last on each. He didn’t have to point to charts showing Georgia among the bottom half of American states in nearly every category — well, every category besides teacher pay — because by now everyone is painfully aware of them.

“We spend more money than any country on Earth [on education], those are the results,” Rogers said. “We spend more money in the General Assembly on education than any other issue, and we’re…almost dead last” in results.

He continued: “We [legislators] get phone calls from the very people who put us in this position, saying, ‘Don’t change anything, we’re doing just fine!’

“I’ll say this: If your schools are so great, you’ve got nothing to fear. Because no [student] will leave. Educational freedom is about children. It’s not about schools, it’s not about systems.”

In fact, a school system’s funding per pupil would rise if one of its students took advantage of a voucher, because only the state funding follows the child. The local money, which generally covers a system’s overhead costs, would remain in place even though the system had one fewer child to educate.

“Show me one school that’s had any issues because of the special-needs scholarship,” said Jamie Self, head of government affairs for the Center for an Educated Georgia. “You can give relief to someone without damaging anyone else.

“It continues to amaze me how even the smallest expansions or changes to help a handful of kids with particular learning challenges [are] sacrificed at the altar of maintaining the status quo for everyone else.”

On second thought, maybe Rogers ought to spend more time courting Democrat senators to join a Democrat on the House side, Rep. Alisha Morgan, who is a key supporter of school choice. After all, too many of his fellow Republicans are rapidly proving they can’t be trusted to be the party of educational freedom.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

Or tweet this blog post:

93 comments Add your comment

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

March 16th, 2011
7:43 pm

Maybe they don’t want two thousand union teachers going ape in the lobby of their office, no?

The Man

March 16th, 2011
9:13 pm

Yeah your old High school needs this to recruit football players


March 16th, 2011
9:17 pm

My understanding is they tabled it. How long do we let our kids hang in limbo? APS, DeKalb, Clayton County. Sheesh!!!!

And opposing the bill were state School Superintendent John Barge, state School Superintendent, the superintendents’ and school boards associations and public teachers groups.

And there are those who say educators are left defenseless without unions.



March 16th, 2011
9:18 pm

Sorry……redundant on the state School Superintendent.


March 16th, 2011
9:33 pm

For those of us leaning to the center-left, wins are far and between in the General Assembly. Chip Rogers and his band of merry anti-public schoolers got what they deserved today.

Rogers and his supporters place their priority relating to education in not improving public education but in trying to find new ways to get people to abandon public education.

Another big loss for Rogers. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving despot!

Stephen White

March 16th, 2011
9:34 pm

Mr. Wingfield is right to point out that vouchers aren’t an acceptable Republican idea in Georgia. But vouchers are a “right to be educated” option for many students, not just those with disabilities. With a dropout rate as high as it is in Georgia, I find it surprising that so few Republicans AND Democrats support the idea. It is interesting to note that a fairly liberal-minded person like Arianna Huffington in her book “Third World America” actually supports the idea of vouchers: arguing in effect that it should be a federal law. Single-payer, school choice. Of course, we have the same problem with healthcare. Not enough enlightened legislators to support the idea of “single-payer, healthcare choice.”
Republicans are so afraid of the idea of big government getting involved in these decisions that they would take away freedom just to restrict the size and scope of government. Sometimes sticking so tenaciously to a principle actually defeats the ends the principle was intended to serve. Mr. Wingfield seems to get it. I wonder how many more dropouts have to stumble through life uneducated before we realize how miserably public schools are failing. We have a couple of avenues to pursue to bring about better outcomes in education: regulate and spend more money on education, or introduce choice and competition and let the money follow the students.
The Georgia Cyber Academy is an example of how we could save money and introduce choice and improve outcomes. We have got to look at the outmoded model of brick and mortar education and see it for what it is. And we have to realize that regulation can only get us so far toward improving school performance. If the money follows the choice (both federal and state monies), watch out! We might just see a 90% graduation rate in the State of Georgia.
Yes….we all know there are many, many arguments against choice. But we are discussing the problem of vouchers in the context of “schools as they exist” and not in the context of “schools as they ought to be.”
Prediction: eventually virtual academies (online) will make massive inroads on student enrollments, and the shape of education will never be the same. Choice and efficiency can go hand in hand. But we must be prepared to support the idea that a single-payer education system with choice might be more efficient than a multiple-payer system WITHOUT CHOICE.

Aswaith T. Thistlebrith IV

March 16th, 2011
9:34 pm

Well, I can see already that for the 20th year in a row I’m going to get absolutely no state help in sending my children to Marist. That means driving the Bentley for yet another year. A man can stand only so much, you know.


March 16th, 2011
10:00 pm

Private education is medieval. Our founding fathers agreed that we were all responsible for the education of our neighbors, for the preservation of the Republic. Hence it was written in state constitutions ca 1770s and 1780s. Maybe the GOP can reconsider the words of those great white men who had concerns larger than that of their own self-interest and their families. These arguments for the destruction of public education are amoral familism at its ugliest and quite un-American, at least according to the historical documents.


March 16th, 2011
10:12 pm

As an admin in a public school….I’d be all for choice/vouches IF, I repeat IF any private school that accepts a voucher must accept ANY and ALL students who wish to apply. Regardless of discipline, academics, finances. Level the playing field…sounds fair to me! Otherwise, education will go back to the days of segregation. The haves and the have nots (economic, not necessarily racial). Before you start, I’m also white.


March 16th, 2011
10:14 pm

All of you supporters of the public school monopoly show your true colors as anti-child. Keep sacrificing generation after generation of kids to the altar of educrats. That’s how America is going to get ahead. Get real.


March 16th, 2011
10:19 pm

@Cherokee, …and by ‘America’ you mean the interests of a select few who can afford it. Greed and aristocracy by any other names are, of course, still greed and aristocracy.


March 16th, 2011
10:19 pm

@Cherokee, …and by ‘America’ you mean the interests of a select few who can afford it. Greed and aristocracy by any other names are, of course, still greed and aristocracy.

lynnie gal

March 16th, 2011
10:23 pm

The Republican war on teachers and public education rages on…Tax cuts for businesses and cuts to schools–that’s the recipe the GOP is pushing to “solve” our problems. This phony argument for vouchers is a foot in the door to destroy our schools. Oh, and “we all know about teacher pay” huh? Oh, yeah. That old GOP chestnut–the nerve of those freeloading, overpaid teachers to expect healthcare and pensions! They should make minimum wage and have no healthcare, shouldn’t they? Just like everyone else, Republicans say. Then, they INSIST on extending the Bush tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. You Republicans are completely morally bankrupt.l


March 16th, 2011
10:32 pm

Awesome column. Freedom to choose to get shnockered on Sunday, but no choice when it comes to how a parent best wishes to educate their child. Bunch of %#&@ chickens.

Charles Tighe

March 16th, 2011
10:33 pm

Teachers have NO unions in Georgia – we have no collective bargaining, no negotiated work rules, no union representation in the sense northern states do – yet we’re still at the bottom of the heap in education.


March 16th, 2011
10:35 pm

It is a choice to send a student to a private school. I, as a homeowing citizen do not have a choice to pay school taxes, even though I am glad to because it’s good for the community. I do not want my tax dollars spent on vouchers that would help fund Bigotville Academy.

sid ceasar

March 16th, 2011
10:43 pm

Union thuganomics will never put kids ahead of teacher pay and security.

Atlanta mom

March 16th, 2011
10:51 pm

” But while I think their party ought to be on board with a policy that by and large would help middle- and lower-income kids”
No Mr. Wingfield, vouchers do not help lower-income kids. Vouchers do not even begin to cover the cost of private school education. It is questionable if they would even help middle income families, as the cost of private schools, by and large, is much greater than a voucher.
It would however, really help those upper income families interested in private schools.


March 16th, 2011
10:59 pm

And just how many foster parents do you know who have a few extra thousand dollars to add to the little amount the voucher would be to pay the high cost of a private school? I am a volunteer for an advocacy group for foster children, and I do not know one single foster parent who can afford the extra money. This is a “sham” to help the wealthy pay for their children’s private school.


March 16th, 2011
11:05 pm

There’s still a lot of work to do in cleaning out the bad apples in the state legislature. We’ve managed to rid ourselves of many of the D’s, now it’s time to start cleaning out the R’s that are holding back real progress. I’m not particularly a fan of Rogers but when the man is right, he’s right.

Truth Squad

March 16th, 2011
11:13 pm

Vouchers aren’t going to happen.

When all is said and done, parents from the desirable schools don’t want kids from the undesirable schools coming and lowering test score means, college admission rates, and yes, property values.

Also, if you’re a parent in Clayton County and you want to send your kid to school in Cobb, how do you get your kid to school and still make it to work on time without leaving your kid alone waiting for someone to show up and open the school? How about picking the kid up?

Now we’re talking about $$$ for transportation services, or, expansion of mass transit and after school care.

The best option, and ultimately the most efficient option, is to have well funded schools in every community. It would also be nice if we took advantage of technology in delivering education and rework the curriculum to teach kids skills that are relevant to the 21st Century.


March 16th, 2011
11:26 pm

“But while I think their party ought to be on board with a policy that by and large would help middle- and lower-income kids,”

Thanks, Kyle. I needed a good laugh tonight. Because certainly you’re joking here.


March 16th, 2011
11:34 pm

Nice propaganda, Kyle. The main beneficiaries of “choice” are private schools and rich kids whose parents would have their tuitions subsidized. The goal is obviously to lead to vouchers for all and the dismantlement of our “government” (what Teapartiers like to call public schools) school system. Some sympathetic categories were named in the existing voucher bill and this proposal added more. But in truth you have to put the word “rich” in front of the category names to see who would really utilize it. Apparently, this would have been a hypocrisy too great for even many Republican senators after they have gutted education funding by over $2 billion and the HOPE Scholarship program. At least some Republicans still believe in shared sacrifice. What is your position on that Kyle?

David Hoffman

March 16th, 2011
11:36 pm

I think each taxpaying resident of Georgia should get a voucher for the amount of money they pay in local and state taxes to support K-12 education in the state. Since I have no children, I will be able to save that money and buy a modest house within several years. Or maybe a nice sailboat. Imagine the size of your vouchers without the contributions of those of us with no children.


March 17th, 2011
12:05 am

I have no problem with parents making a choice to send their children to a school other than a public school (and I am a public school teacher). However, here’s the problem…. Fine, Johnny goes to private school. I still have 31 students in the room and now, because someone wanted to give Johnny a voucher, the same overhead and less money to pay it, so where do we cut? Oh well, Suzie doesn’t really need a pencil now does she? Johnny, in the mean time, doesn’t have to take the tests Suzie must still take to prove that I’m doing my job so who knows what kind of education Johnny really is getting. In this case, I’m sorry parents, if you want the private school, fine…. but you need to make a sacrifice. I’m not big on welfare, yet here Mr. Wingfield is advocating for it in the form of a voucher.

Tell the truth

March 17th, 2011
12:06 am

The voucher issue continues to be “another” in the low hanging fruit that the middle and upper income class desire in order to take “their fair share” of. Much like they perverted the Hope scholarship by taking their share of the funds that were originally meant to be needs based. You remember- by using it for private schools; and in other states as well??? And now we have rounded third by creating larger shares for the better prepared private school students.Ahhh yes- greed and hypocrisy- you are well known regardless of what name you go by.

Real Athens

March 17th, 2011
12:17 am

There is no collective bargaining agreement among Georgia teachers — hence there is no teachers union. They are just a club — no different than a church, VFW, etc.

Larry Major

March 17th, 2011
12:41 am

Unless you think vouchers in Georgia will change national numbers or move the United States on global rankings, there really wasn’t any legitimate reason for Rogers to spend time going over those numbers, was there?

If the argument is that kids on voucher do better than in their public school, let’s see some numbers on it. We are already paying for vouchers, so show us what we got for our money. There are all kinds of test scores publicized for public schools so taxpayers can form opinions, but no reports of any kind on voucher recipients who are also taxpayer funded.

If it’s such a great idea, there’s no reason to keep the results a secret.

another comment

March 17th, 2011
1:01 am

I am very far from being a Republican, but Voucher’s should be available for all, not just select groups. Why should my child have to attend a school, where a Rape, was committed on campus. The first notification I had about it as a parent was on the 5:00 news. You could think the Administration could have sent home a notice or an e-mail.

Rural Education

March 17th, 2011
5:11 am

Two things; First we have no Teacher Unions in Georgia. Secondly, Private schools don’t want vouchers. They are exclusive for a reason, taking anyone would kill that.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

March 17th, 2011
6:37 am

Eight years of work to stabilize Iraq could go to waste if Congress guts funding to train Iraqi police forces after U.S. combat troops leave the country, a senior diplomat said Wednesday.-Urinal

All we had to do was threaten to cut their beloved government spending and we finally got the ate up liberals at the AJC to admit we won the war in Iraq.

Strike up the Battle Hymn of the Republic

Mission accomplished!


March 17th, 2011
7:53 am

Bigotville Academy!!??!!

So tiresome.

Black Flight to Private Schools Is Growing

When white families pull their children out of big-city public schools, everybody pays attention and debates whether the cause is educational failure, racial bias or some other factor. When African-American parents do the same thing, hardly anyone seems to care or comment, as if blacks are just supposed to accept whatever the neighborhood school dishes up – good, mediocre or abysmal.

There’s a private school K-12 near where I live. From all appearances, it’s probably 95 to 98% black.

Black families want something better for THEIR children TOO!

Another view

March 17th, 2011
8:36 am

Dont’ even know where to begin – except to say I’ll be first in line to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday to go home (rather than drink in a bar and then drive home) and celebrate this year’s failure of the voucher fiasco. I must admit surprise, though, given the victory of the white and rich with HOPE, that a white and rich voucher bill did not pass.
Vouchers are purely and simply an effort to resegregate. No voucher bill can force privates to take all kids, so the publics with the harder kids to teach will be left with the hardest kids to teach, leaving the better-educated and wealthier to escape to the privates. I DO UNDERSTAND parents’ wishes to get their kids away from the rowdies and ne’er-do-wells the publics MUST take, but vouchers simply pave the path to a future like the sci-fi films that wall off the inner cities and leave them to the most decadent and evil. The solution, whatever it may be, is not the mindless naive simplicity of vouchers.
Just a reminder – the rich white kids coming back from private middle schools to finish at well-funded publics (knowing full well they stand little chance to get into UGA, Tech, Princeton or Harvard from the private) are on average far behind their peers who came through the public sequence. Too late, kids. Too bad your parents didn’t let you stay in the publics in the first place.


March 17th, 2011
8:54 am

“… extend school vouchers, now available only to children with disabilities, to foster-care students and kids with a parent in the military.”

I fail to see how this would improve education in Georgia that is dead last in almost every measurable factor. How is extending vouchers to foster care & military kids going to improve the total education package in Georgia?


March 17th, 2011
8:58 am

Pundits talk about all the reasons Georgia students are always near the bottom in ranking. Well, almost all of the reasons. They leave out the most obvious one, namely, that teachers and schools can only do so much with the low quality of many of the students they have to try to teach. No matter how many social experiments are tried, you will never be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Georgia Voter

March 17th, 2011
9:25 am

KW: “In fact, a school system’s funding per pupil would rise if one of its students took advantage of a voucher, because only the state funding follows the child. The local money, which generally covers a system’s overhead costs, would remain in place even though the system had one fewer child to educate.

If true, this voucher opponent might be convinced that supporting vouchers might not be as harmful to public school students as suspected (there’s no evidence that I’ve been able to find that vouchers improve test scores for any district where it’s been tried, including Washington D.C. where John Boehner is trying to INCREASE funding for vouchers even though the school district that doesn’t want them.)

That said, KW’s assertion doesn’t pass the smell test. The variable cost of a child is the extra desks and books. The overhead, includes school administrators, teachers, building, etcetera. I’d love to see the numbers, if any, that support this claim.


March 17th, 2011
9:53 am

It just seems to me that if Mr. Rogers (and his neighorhood) would devote as much time to restoring the public school funding that his votes took away during the “Sonny” days that our schools would at least have a fighting chance to improve. It might be time to re-think your priorities senator.


March 17th, 2011
10:40 am

Chip Rogers has zero credibility. Anyone who cozies up to that thug D.A. King doesn’t deserve anyone’s attention.


March 17th, 2011
10:41 am

Quoting from your article “Jamie Self, head of government affairs for the Center for an Educated Georgia. “You can give relief to someone without damaging anyone else.” Sounds like some wild liberal talking about sharing the wealth. Better find a better source to quote than this one Kyle.


March 17th, 2011
10:42 am

Let them send their little darlings to private school at their own expense.


March 17th, 2011
10:44 am

Sadly, everything in this state comes down to race and the irrational fear of whites of anything darker.


March 17th, 2011
10:56 am

Our goal as a society should be an educated public. Our allegiance should not be to any particular method of how to do achieve that goal. Everything ought to be on the table: virtual learning, charter schools, traditional public schools, and yes, even private schools.

And sir, with the Bentley, my guess is that you could already afford to send your kid to Marist. I’d be much more concerned with the single mom on minimum wage whose kid is forced to attend Atlanta Public Schools.

Which has actually made me think that, perhaps, the social justice aspect to great choice in how to educate children–regardless of income or zip code–makes it less of a Republic ideal than a Democratic one. Too bad that neither party gets it in GA. Lots of other states are embracing all sorts of reforms, choices and standards. And those states are leaping ahead of us (not that it’s hard) in producing an educated public, and a quality workforce.

But at least we can drown our sorrows as to the dismal state of education in our state with a freshly purchased beer on Sunday.


March 17th, 2011
11:05 am

They want to go to another school, move to that district.

Wyle Kingfield

March 17th, 2011
11:15 am

I’d rather have a voucher that helps me buy expensive likker in my favorite store on Sundays. Give me the chance to upgrade from Old Mr. Boston to maybe a nice Grey Goose or Belvedere. Cheers!


March 17th, 2011
11:17 am

Shouldn’t our legislators be concentrating on fixing this state’s economy and replacing all the jobs these backwoods bubbas have chased from this state instead of going back to the same old tired social issues that keep the rabble’s attention off of real issues?


March 17th, 2011
11:59 am

As low as Georgia’s education level is compared to everyone else, it should be top on the list of things to address. And it should be much broader than vouchers.


March 17th, 2011
12:14 pm


I’m not how you could be so stupid as to recommend throwing more money at public education. The problem isn’t money. Get that through your thick head. We’ve tried throwing money at the problem for 40 YEARS, and it’s done nothing. The problem is two-fold: schools which don’t toss-out troublemakers and schools which don’t fire bad teachers. The second of those two is why bad teachers (see: unions) don’t like the idea of school choice.


March 17th, 2011
12:16 pm


Why are you so terrified of school choice? Can’t stand competition? Don’t want to see conservatives proven right (again)?

Education IS a jobs issue. Hard to take the dumbbells turned out by many public schools and turn them into nuclear scientists.

James Cain

March 17th, 2011
12:27 pm

The comments on this post show that we’ve still not moved beyond stereotypes–on both sides–to consider the real effects of a “voucher” system. It’s hard to know where to begin with the falsehoods.

1) Private schools are exclusive (they exclude some); it does not follow that all private schools are elitist.

2) Similarly, exclusivity does not require (or equal) segregation, whether socioeconomic or racial. The parents who choose our school are looking for something completely different from what the public schools provide.

3) In order to be accredited (a requirement for the Special Needs Scholarship), a private school must demonstrate its effectiveness in many of the same ways a public school must. It must administer a recognized standardized test, for example.

4) Our young private school has kept tuition low, and still manages to offer significant help to families with demonstrated need. Many of these families pay taxes already, taxes that benefit public schools their children don’t attend.

5) Not all parents fleeing the public schools are white, as one commenter noted. And–just saying–parents don’t flee stellar schools. They flee failing ones, or ones that inspire fear rather than success.

6) Where public schools are concerned, more money is not the answer. Many private schools manage to do a lot with less tuition than the public schools get per student. Often it’s because they hire and retain passionate, exceptional teachers and require them to continue being exceptional year after year. Their performance is measured by their students’ success, in part, but the picture is wider than that.

Here’s hoping the American educational system can be reformed before it collapses under its own weight.

Joe Mama

March 17th, 2011
12:56 pm

Kyle, this isn’t about school choice. Parents and students have school choice *already.* If you want to pull your child out of public school and put him or her into private school, parochial school, a church academy, military school or just plain home-school them, you can do that TODAY. You don’t need anything more from the General Assembly or Governor Deal in order to do that.

What you don’t have, and what this discussion is really about (but its proponents apparently fear to say) is SUBSIDIZED school choice. You want your kid in a private school, fine. Sacrifice, scrimp and save and make it happen on your own dime instead of looking to someone else to pay for it.

If Food Stamp (now EBT SNAP) recipients don’t like the choices available to them, we don’t let them go to Ruth’s Chris with their benefit card for a steak.

If Section 8 recipients don’t care for the housing that’s available to them on their program, they’re not permitted to stay downtown in the Intercontinental hotel on the taxpayer’s nickel.

You can’t save up MARTA tokens and trade them in for a new Ford F-150.

And so it is with public education. You can take the free benefit and send Johnny and Jenny to public school if you want to, but nobody’s forcing you to and you don’t get something else for free if you don’t like what’s offered to you.

And here I thought conservatives didn’t like entitlement programs.