Mar 14, 2024 - Politics

State House passes school voucher bill

Illustration of an apple with a ticket voucher for a leaf.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Georgia is one step closer to giving tax money to parents who want to send their children to private schools after a controversial bill passed the state House Thursday.

Why it matters: Opponents say Senate Bill 233 would take away funding from public schools, help mostly children whose parents can afford private school tuition, and would benefit counties in urban areas.

  • Its supporters say the bill would give parents more options and allow them to make the best decisions for their child's education.

The latest: The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act would provide a $6,500 voucher per year to parents to help cover the cost of enrolling their children in participating private schools.

  • The bill requires participating schools to be accredited or in the process of obtaining accreditation.
  • Students have to be enrolled for one year in schools ranked among the lowest performing in the state.
  • A parent's income can't exceed 400% of the federal poverty level, or around $120,000 for a family of four.

What they're saying: Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton), who presented the legislation, also said the scholarship, if signed into law, would go into effect at the start of the 2025-26 school year and end June 30, 2035.

  • State Rep. Scott Hilton (R-Peachtree Corners) said the legislation "provides a critical lifeline of hope across our state to families who are currently trapped in failing schools."
  • "I want the child that is in the most difficult school system to receive the fantastic education that my child receives back home," said State Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville). "Every child needs options."

The other side: State Rep. Lisa Campbell (D-Kennesaw) said voting against the bill would align lawmakers with the majority of Georgians "who do not wish to send their public tax dollars to unaccountable, unknown, and unproven private schools."

  • Miriam Paris, a Democrat from Macon, said vouchers only work for a certain few and that generally those few don't need help.
  • "It is still and remains a tool to defund public education," she said. "It is still a pig with lipstick."
  • State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Powder Springs) said families living in metro areas will benefit more from the legislation because they have more private schools than rural parts of the state.

Of note: Language was also added to the bill that would codify teacher pay raises the legislature previously approved and allow school districts to use capital outlay funding to open or expand pre-kindergarten options.

The big picture: School vouchers have become a contentious issue in legislatures across the South in recent years.

  • Lawmakers in North Carolina last year expanded a program that would be open to parents of all income levels.
  • In Tennessee, vouchers are a top priority of Gov. Bill Lee during that state's legislative session.
  • A voucher proposal in Texas failed to get enough votes to pass in 2023.

What's next: SB 233 will go back to the Senate for a vote.

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