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
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