Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

As the Georgia Legislature reconvenes next week, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is calling on lawmakers to make poverty-fighting measures one of their top goals. Along these lines, GCO has released the following 5 recommendations to reduce poverty in Georgia and expand economic mobility:

Civil Asset Forfeiture

GCO produced a report (PDF download) examining Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow for an arrested person’s property to be seized, sold, and the proceeds used for law enforcement purposes, even if a person is not convicted of a crime. Our report makes several recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in this program. GCO will seek to have our recommendations passed into law.

Occupational Licensing

Following up on legislation passed last year benefiting spouses of our brave military personnel, GCO will support legislation to allow many other people who move to Georgia and hold an occupation license to immediately be granted a provisional license. This will allow these new Georgians to immediately go to work and support their families.

Criminal Justice Reform

GCO will support legislation that seeks to remove suspending the driver’s license of a person late on their child support payments. We approach this topic with sensitivity, knowing these payments are meant to support children, but losing a driver’s license impacts the debtor’s ability to work—and thus the ability to pay. There are better ways to hold people accountable for past due child support.

Education Scholarship Accounts

GCO has long supported empowering parents by creating Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). We will support such legislation again this year. ESAs take the state portions of a child’s education funds and allow parents to seek other educational pathways for their child. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19, where face-to-face instruction is limited but still extremely important to a child’s development.

Special Needs Scholarship Program

Last year, GCO championed legislation to fix a loophole in Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship Program that has been keeping thousands of otherwise eligible children out of the program. The legislation passed the Georgia Senate, but was sidelined when the pandemic hit our state. We will work to see this legislation pass both Legislative Chambers and be signed successfully by Governor Kemp this year.

The GCO team will keep you updated throughout the session as we work on these priorities. Keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates and be sure to join us for Get Buzz’d a live update on Facebook from our VP of Policy, Buzz Brockway. Buzz shares his insight into how policies will impact your everyday life.

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

By David Bass

Where’s the Christmas cheer? 


That’s what I find myself asking as I look at all of the bitter partisan rancor surrounding Georgia’s pair of runoff elections for two U.S. Senate races. Civility has definitely taken a backseat to rage and bitterness this month in the Peach State as we march toward January 5, election day for the runoff (although early voting has already begun).


In the two races, incumbent Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The two races are the most important in recent memory because their outcome will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate beginning in 2021.


Here’s what’s getting lost amid all the political squabbling: When the dust settles and winners are declared, both sides will need to come together to work on solutions to our country’s challenges. But if we lose our dignity and sense of purpose in an effort to get our candidate elected, that kind of cooperation is far more challenging. Ultimately in that type of scenario, we will have lost regardless of the electoral outcome.


What’s more, it’s important to remember that our problems won’t magically disappear after the January 5 runoff. Thinking so is to believe that elected officials hold the absolute power to solve our problems. They don’t. 


The fact of the matter is that peoples’ lives meaningfully improve locally when neighbors help neighbors. That’s the key: Our neighbors, whom we’re treating so poorly right now in this election fight, will still be there after we know the election results. We’ll still need to love them, help them, to build better neighborhoods, communities, and ultimately a better Georgia.


That is a fundamental value of the team here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. We put the dignity of people far above temporary election wins. We realize that in-fighting and partisan squabbling hurts people, when we should be looking for ways to cross the aisle to cooperate in an effort to reduce poverty, expand economic mobility, increase access to quality education options for all families, help people succeed in their relationships and families, and connect people with meaningful work.


We must remember the humanity of other people. We must understand that a difference of opinion does not diminish our inherent worth as human beings worthy of respect. We’re encouraging all Georgians to go vote in these crucial runoff elections, but don’t cast your ballot and call it a day. Let’s practice the Golden Rule: Loving our neighbors regardless of their politics and looking for ways to work together to find common solutions to the challenges we face.


In the end, I realize that Christmas cheer is alive and well across Georgia, evident in everyday acts of kindness, charity, and goodwill. We’ll still be helping our neighbors in the weeks leading up to January 5, and we’ll continue helping them in the weeks, months, and years that follow.


Acceptance of the New Normal | HEALTHY @ HOME

Acceptance of the New Normal | HEALTHY @ HOME

Acceptance of the New Normal | HEALTHY @ HOME

As we enter the holiday season it’s important to recognize the changes that have taken place in 2020, and are shaping the way families are gathering for celebrations.  

Laura Cochling of Changing Perceptions Therapy walks us through healthy ways to accept our new normal. 

To learn more about the Healthy @ Home series and see additional videos click here

We are driven by a belief – supported by experience and research- that people from all walks of life are more likely to flourish if they have an intact, healthy family and strong relationships.


To learn more about how the Healthy Families Initiative is active in the community, click here

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

GCO welcomes Jace Brooks as Director of the

Gwinnett Workforce Initiative

March 2020 changed everything for Jace Brooks, as it did for so many Americans.

As a member of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, Jace had worked for years to bring together nonprofits with government resources in the human-services area. All of these efforts went into overdrive when the first case of COVID-19 arrived in Gwinnett County. 


The global pandemic was no longer an abstract concept in the news—it was in our backyards impacting our neighbors. In a matter of months, Gwinnett County’s remarkable 2.4 percent unemployment rate spiked to 12.5 percent. Tens of thousands of residents were out of work, many of them homeless.

That’s when the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) approached Jace about joining the team as a contractor to aid workforce development efforts in Gwinnett County. Initially, Jace worked to assemble a handful of service providers, nonprofits, schools, and employers to help the county’s struggling workers find stable work again. Those partnerships blossomed to over 25 organizations, companies, and schools, including Goodwill, Families First, Georgia Gwinnett College, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the public library system, Impact46, and the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia.


The need hasn’t let up. In fact, it’s only growing, even as Gwinnett County rebounds from the economic shocks experienced in the spring. That is why GCO decided to bring on Jace full-time as our new Director of the Gwinnett Workforce Initiative.

“I have a deep love for Gwinnett County and the entire Atlanta metro region,” Jace says. “That’s been fostered through my service on the Suwanee City Council, the board of commissioners, and through volunteer time at my family’s church, Gwinnett Church. There are so many people struggling out there. I think of the single mom with a couple of kids, just looking for a place to stay or a meal. Through our partners, we can get her connected to all the right resources and move her from crisis to career. That is work so full of meaning, and I couldn’t be more excited to be on board with GCO.”

The Gwinnett Workforce Initiative is part of GCO’s broader effort to link underserved communities with the resources they need to thrive. It’s called Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG). This effort is based on the belief that a stable job is key to human flourishing. But it takes a concerted effort to come alongside struggling people to give them the resources, support, and training needed to succeed. And that help best comes from a bottom-up approach through our neighborhoods and communities, not top-down from government.

Equitable Options In Education

Equitable Options In Education

Equitable Options In Education 

By Shana Burres 

Ashley* is a middle-class mom. She is married with three kids and, through a scholarship, has her children enrolled in a local well-respected private school. She was pleased to be able to provide her children with an excellent education and believed they were gaining an advantage in their academic career. 

A few years into elementary school her son, John, was excelling academically but struggling with basic social and life skills. After a series of tests and meetings with doctors and experts, John was placed on the Autism spectrum. He was diagnosed as high-functioning, with a high IQ and all the potential to learn how to navigate a neurotypical world. 

Ashley immediately withdrew John from the private school and enrolled him in the local public school. 

Why? “Because Ashley believed public schools would offer better services for her child with special needs.” This is due, in part, to the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides funding to public schools specifically to meet the needs of students with disabilities and learning barriers. 

Fostering Public Health

Long before the IDEA legislation, public schools were used as a way to foster public health and welfare. The earliest integrations of public education and welfare were introduced during the progressive era, starting in the 1890s and continuing into the 1930s. Progressive leaders advocated for the school curriculum to address matters such as health, recreation, and mental health (at the time called mental hygiene). On the heels of the progressive movement, the Truman administration signed the 1945 National School Lunch Act, which provided free or low-cost nutritionally-balanced meals to school children. Coupled with the work of the Freedman’s Schools established in the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877), the education system in the United States has a deeply established pattern of being a source for public health and welfare. 

While there are certainly many middle-class students like John who have benefitted from the services established and developed in the last 150 years, the vast majority of students who rely on the school as a public health arena are living near the poverty line.  According to The US Census report on poverty, one in six children live in poverty, making them the poorest age group in our nation. Children are also most likely to suffer the long-term effects of poverty such as poor educational outcomes, higher instances of injury and chronic illness, and diminished mental and emotional capacity. Each of these factors feed into a poverty loop that increases the likelihood of the next. For example, when a student has a chronic illness and diminished emotional capacity, they miss more days of school and are less able to make up the work from the time missed. Consequently, they fall further behind and are less likely to earn high enough grades to graduate and move into vocational training or college education. So the cycle begins again, as they are trapped in unstable and low-wage jobs, poor health care, and poor outcomes. 

Georgia’s Educational Challenges

In Georgia, sixty percent of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunch. While free lunch may be offered at private schools, the marker is used to represent the over one million students who face a statistically higher risk for the long-term effects of poverty. And, as noted at the beginning of the blog post, the public school is a key welfare access point. When the public schools are inaccessible to families already facing significant barriers, the children lose not only academic instruction but a cascade of critical services. Safety, health, learning or development support, and nutrition are among just some of the key services that disappear along with daily instruction. 

Those types of cascading losses have been brought into stark relief as the nation responds to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It appears we have built a system that relies too heavily on a physical building for the delivery of services. And while new programs like Georgia’s P-EBT have begun to respond to the nutrition gap created by school closures, there remains the questions of how students will catch up academically, who will observe and report domestic abuse, and how students will access mental and social services. 

A Better Way Forward

And these questions bring the focus toward a golden opportunity. As Georgia is forced to look at programs and services differently, we can disentangle the various services to improve the delivery and outcomes across the board. For example, under the old framework, any student could access free- or reduced-cost lunches at their local public school. However, some districts and schools provided a greater complement of services for students with individualized education plans (IEPs). The variances in services provided from district to district contributes to the cascade of poorer outcomes for students living in chronic poverty—but we have the opportunity to change this reality. In fact, Georgia already has systems in place that disentangle the range of services while ensuring the optimal outcome for the individual student through their state school, charter, and virtual school programs.  

The public school will likely always be a public health arena but, as we are quickly learning, equitable public education and social services cannot be bound to the physical local school. We can and should continue to improve the academic, health, and social outcomes for the students of Georgia through creative, flexible, and more open methods of delivery. 

Interested in how you can help support flexible and equitable options? Click here.

Name changed to protect the identity of the individual

Shana Burres is an educator, foster parent, and speaker. She holds a Master’s degree in education and, as the former executive director of DASH Kids, is a fierce advocate for equitable outcomes for children of all backgrounds and experiences. Shana currently is an adjunct professor, learning development consultant, and her local Mockingbird HUB home for foster families and their youth.


Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.