Georgia GOP senators break ranks to doom school voucher bill
ATLANTA (AP) — State senators on Tuesday rejected a plan to give educational vouchers of up to $6,000 a year to almost anyone as long as their child attended Georgia public school for a short time, spurning a push by Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller linked to the Gainesville Republican’s bid for lieutenant governor.
Eight Republicans voted against the bill and four others left the floor, leaving Senate Bill 601 to fail on a 29-20 vote. The vote once again shows how a crucial fraction of rural Republicans resist many school choice proposals, along with all but a few Democrats.
The measure would have provided the money to parents to spend on private school or home-schooling expenses to any child who attended public school for as little as a single six-week stretch.
“This is an opportunity to give students trapped in underperforming school systems the ability to move forward,” Miller told the Senate.
But Democrats rejected that premise, saying that $6,000 is not enough to pay tuition in many private schools, meaning that the benefit would likely flow to more affluent families, while not aiding poorer families.
“If you were really going to try to allow lower income families to exercise school choice, this bill would be means-tested,” said Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat. “Instead, it’s going to be used a lot more by individuals who already have the means.”
Sen. Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican who supported the measure, said that some schools outside metro Atlanta cost less than $6,000, or not more than that amount. He predicted parents would “work harder” to earn a little more money to afford to send their child to a the school of their choice
“We should be helping the middle class people as much as we are the upper class and the lower class,” Gooch said.
Georgia already has programs giving vouchers for special education students in private schools and giving state income tax credits for donors to private school scholarship funds. A bill is pending to double the amount of tax credits for donors to the private school scholarships, from $100 million to $200 million a year. But this bill would have been different because parents could have directed spending as they wanted, including for home-schooling.
The bill was amended to limit the money to the amount that a school system receives per student in aid from the state or $6,000, whichever was less, after Republican Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan noted that the school systems he represents get less than $6,000 per student per year.
Proponents said local schools would come out ahead because districts would keep local tax money they would otherwise spend on students who leave. Opponents, though, said public schools have overhead expenses they would still have to cover.
Opponents also amended the bill to say the money wouldn’t be paid when public school funding didn’t equal what Georgia’s funding formula calls for.
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