On March 5, the day before “Crossover Day” when a bill must pass either the Georgia House or Senate to be considered for final passage this year, the Senate failed to pass a bill creating Education Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs, for students currently attending Georgia public schools. The Senate Bill 173 garnered 25 votes in favor, but needed 29 votes to pass.
Democrats made voting against the bill a caucus position. The 11 sponsors of the bill, led by Sen. Greg Dolezal of Cumming are all Republican. On the final vote, however, Senate Republican leaders balked, siding with the Democratic caucus to stall the bill.
It is unseemly to talk about allowing Georgia’s children to have the best opportunity by granting them additional education choices in partisan terms, but here we are. The money and grassroots activities granted to Democrats by teachers’ unions and associations demand unwavering support of the status quo, as well as a constant demand for “more.”
Anyone wishing to challenge this status quo must face not only well-orchestrated public relations campaigns by institutions of educational bureaucracy, but their willing and ready allies in the press. Note that most news stories about this bill are about robbing public schools of funding.
The facts on funding in Georgia are clear. Our public schools have never received as much money per pupil. Quality Basic Education is fully funded. Teachers are getting an additional step raise this year, with the promise for even more next year. “More” has been addressed year after year, but for the bureaucracy, it will never be enough. Students, meanwhile, remain trapped in schools that do not allow them to unlock their full potential.
ESAs allow the state portion of education funding for public school students to become a scholarship to be used for education expenses outside the school of their assigned zip code. These would be available for up to 0.5 percent of students per year, with a cap of 5 percent of Georgia’s students. Priority would be granted for those in low income homes, students who are being bullied, students with disabilities, and students in military families.
The claim that this reduces funding for public schools is a farce. Local systems retain all education funds from property and sales taxes within the local system. As a result, any local system that loses a student via the ESA program has more money to spend for each remaining student. Meanwhile, charities or parents must bring additional dollars in to cover the remaining cost to educate each ESA student, increasing overall education spending.
It remains curious to watch the division within the GOP on this issue, given that they claim to be the party of opportunity over government central planning. It becomes less clear why there is a split when public opinion polls are considered.
A poll released Monday by GeorgiaCAN, an education advocacy group, shows that 70 percent of Georgians favor ESAs under a plan similar to SB 173. Further, they are overwhelmingly supportive of assisting special student populations such as students with learning disabilities (89 percent support), children within the foster care system (87% support), Children in low income families (85 percent support), children of active duty military (84 percent support), or those who are bullied (76 percent support). Curious to those falling in line to the caucus position, 75 percent of Democrats favor this program, indicating it could be an issue for Republicans to take back seats lost in the 2018 elections. 70 percent of Republicans polled favor the program, while 59% of independents support ESAs.
The issue won’t be going away so legislators of both parties have a choice. They can cede to educational bureaucrats protecting their turf, or they can follow the will of their constituents and allow each Georgia child the maximum number of choices to unlock their own personal potential.