Mar 30, 2023 - News

School voucher bill defeated amid rural Republican opposition

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 

Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A school voucher bill failed in the Georgia state House Wednesday — as more than a dozen rural Georgia Republicans broke with their party and Gov. Brian Kemp's endorsement to defeat it.

Driving the news: S.B. 233 failed in the state House 85-89 in the final hours of the 2023 legislative session, to cheers from Democrats. It had passed the Senate in early March but had been stalled in the House for weeks.

  • House Speaker Jon Burns (R-Newington), who supports the measure, told reporters after the vote that he didn't know how it would tally. "We wanted to see where people were. We wanted to give them a chance to express their thoughts," he said.
  • "It will be something we can move forward with," he said. "We understand better where we are as a body and where we are on that issue."

Why it matters: While the proposal had support from conservative advocacy groups and political leaders, the state's major educators' associations and public school officials remained staunchly opposed.

Details: The vouchers would have provided parents $6,500 per child to use towards private school tuition, tutoring fees, therapy or transportation to participating schools.

  • The bill failed despite a last-minute compromise amendment to ensure the voucher total would have decreased if the state implemented budget cuts.

What they're saying: Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) urged her colleagues to support the measure, saying polls show large number of voters across the state support providing more education options for children.

  • “Who are we to not give some students another option?” she asked.

The other side: State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Atlanta) argued the legislature could better improve the academic performance of all children by investing in literacy programs.

  • "This is not a good step towards trying," she said. "This rips away from public schools without helping those kids we know are struggling."

The legislation drew fierce opposition from teachers' associations and advocacy groups including the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition.

  • Francesca Ruhe, a Midtown High School graduate and Georgia State University freshman, told a House Education Policy subcommittee earlier this month that the bill would leave behind students from less fortunate backgrounds who can't afford private school tuition.
  • "Students who can't leave (are) stranded and stuck in underfunded schools because their wealthier classmates decided that there were greener pastures elsewhere," she testified. "This bill would do all students across Georgia a massive disservice."

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