Virtual learning isn’t working. Gov. Kemp, we need your help | THE CHAMPION

Virtual learning isn’t working. Gov. Kemp, we need your help | THE CHAMPION

Virtual learning isn’t working. Gov. Kemp, we need your help | THE CHAMPION

Gov. Brian Kemp is in a unique position to help families like mine during one of the most challenging times in our lives. My wife and I have two school-aged children, a son and a daughter. Both are being educated within the Decatur City Schools district. Our son, Wyatt, happens to have Down syndrome. He is in the fourth grade.

When the public school system shut down in March, we didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately, the struggles of virtual learning with our son have exceeded what we thought was tolerable…

Read the full article here


New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19

New GCO poll: 81% of parents support educational microgrants during COVID-19


By David Bass

The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) today released the results of a parent opinion poll that found 81 percent of respondents in favor of using federal emergency relief funds to help parents cover some educational costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The poll, taken of a random sample of 721 Georgia parents, also found that such microgrants would encourage parents to make alternative educational decisions for their children: 59 percent of respondents reported that a one-time microgrant of $1,000 would either prompt them to send their child to a different school or help out in their existing decision to do so.

Recently, a coalition of education reformers sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp urging him to use the remaining portion of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund to directly support students through the challenges of virtual learning. Currently in Georgia, the governor’s office is the only entity in the state with the ability to provide families with this desperately needed help.

The poll results back up what we already know: Offering direct payment assistance to Georgia families is the best way to keep vulnerable students from falling further behind during this crisis. A one-size-fits-all approach to education never works. We must offer as many families as possible maximum flexibility in their education decisions this year. Empowering parents directly with funds puts them in the driver’s seat and cuts out bureaucratic obstacles. This step simply takes available additional federal funds and gives parents the most help, the fastest, right when they need it the most.

Megan and teacher at table

A Survey Of How The Average Georgia Family Is Navigating Education During The Pandemic

These microgrants would help students like Hannah Foy, a 13-year-old with Down syndrome. Hannah has been isolated at home since March and is falling behind. “Putting education dollars directly into the hands of parents means that our children have a greater chance of not falling behind,” wrote Hannah’s mother, Elizabeth, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The funds will come nowhere close to meeting the needs of students like my daughter, but they will help to bridge the gap until schools can fully reopen again.

Other key findings from the poll include:

  • 57 percent said their children learned “far less” or “somewhat less” than they had when they were in their pre-shutdown school.

  • Only 12 percent of respondents said their school did “badly” or “very badly” during the coronavirus crisis. Thirty-three percent were neutral and 55 percent said their school did “well” or “very well.”

  • Only 18 percent of respondents thought that their schools did not provide enough resources to their children.

  • 33 percent thought that there was “much work” or “far more work than I imagined it would be” to teach their children because of the shutdown.

  • Only 6 percent are considering homeschooling their children when last year they were not home schooled.

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.

Virtual learning isn’t working. Gov. Kemp, we need your help | THE CHAMPION

Georgia groups push Kemp for virtual-learning microgrants | WALKER COUNTY MESSENGER

Georgia groups push Kemp for virtual-learning microgrants | WALKER COUNTY MESSENGER

ATLANTA – Several groups are pressing Gov. Brian Kemp to start divvying out small federal grant funds aimed at helping families pay for school supplies, child care and other expenses while their children are taking online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


In a letter sent Tuesday, Sept. 15, groups including the American Federation for Children, the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta and GeorgiaCAN urged Kemp to reserve more than $20 million in federal COVID-19 funds for microgrants, which cover small one-time expenses.


Along with several educational and disability-advocacy groups, the letter was also signed by a handful of conservative-leaning organizations including the Americans for Prosperity’s Georgia chapter and the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Georgia Center for Opportunity also signed the letter.

Read the full article here


Field Trips in the Time of COVID

Field Trips in the Time of COVID

Field Trips In The Time Of COVID


By Heidi Holmes Erickson


We all remember a time as students when we boarded a bus, a brown paper bag with a smashed sandwich in hand, anxiously waiting as our teacher gave us information about the day’s field trip. Field trips are a long-standing tradition in K-12 education and may be some of our most vivid memories from school. Butin the  COVID-19 era, field trips may be non-existent for the upcoming school year as many school districts across the country prepare for fully virtual instruction.  

Many parents are already looking for ways to supplement the virtual education experience. Families are forming academic/learning pods; joining (and forming) homeschool co-ops, hybrid homeschools, or micro-schools; and searching out anything that will help enhance their children’s education and expose them to a world outside of their own home (and, let’s be honest, keep parents’ sanity). This is where museums and other cultural institutions can help.

There is a growing body of research that finds that culturally enriching field trips to art museums, the theater, and other such institutions are an important part of education.Students experience significant educational and social emotional benefits from such culturally enriching trips, including greater tolerance, empathy, higher academic achievement, and greater school engagement, with some evidence that economically disadvantaged students experiences the largest gains

The Importance of Field Trips

Why do students see such significant benefits from field trips? There isn’t a clear answer, but one theory is that arts expose students to a broader world beyond their own. Art exposes all of us to people, places, ideas, cultures, and history that we didn’t know before. In a time where students have limited interactions outside of their own homes and neighborhoods, arts and other cultural institutions can provide connecting experiences. 

Art museums typically see thousands of school groups throughout the year. With social distancing guidelines, however, it seems impossible to take an entire class of young children anywhere, let alone on a bus to a theater. Yet many museums and some theaters have now reopened and are offering tours for small groups, limiting capacity inside, or moving to outdoor venues. 

For example, here in Georgia, the High Museum of Art is open daily with reservations, and the Alliance Theatre is preparing for the 2020-21 season which includes multiple productions for youth as well as young children. Museums can easily and safely accommodate “academic pods” with a few children and parents. Now, attending museums with family and friends is not something new, but it may play a more important role in enhancing students’ education this cloistered year than it has previously.


The Power of Experience

These in-person cultural experiences are more important for student learning than some might expect. There is some evidence that field trips done “virtually” or in an at-home or in-class setting are not as impactful as when students visit the actual institutions. For instance, a recent study found that students who attended a live theater performance had greater command of the plot than students who saw a movie version of the same play. Another study found that students who visited an art museum asked more complex questions about works of art and recalled the experience in more detail than students who saw the same art but in a classroom setting. This evidence suggests that an in-person experience has a unique importance that isn’t always transferred to other settings. 

With the 2020-21 school year looking nothing like anyone could have predicted, parents and students should embrace the change and enjoy educational experiences that are not limited to something on a computer screen. Taking time away from instruction in core subjects isn’t going to harm student academic performance—it might even help!

Heidi Holmes Erickson

Heidi Holmes Erickson is a faculty member in the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University.



A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school

COVID-19 Makes the Case for Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

COVID-19 Makes the Case for Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

COVID-19 Makes the Case for

Educational Flexibility Even Stronger

By Benjamin Scafidi 

With respect to school openings during this COVID-19 pandemic, a public health professor recently observed, “There are no ideal solutions here. No matter what schools do, they won’t make everyone happy.” Of course, that is true in the monolithic K-12 education system we have now.  But we can move away from a monolithic system. We can move to a system that empowers parents with more choices.

Calls for giving families choice in K-12 education go back to Thomas Paine in the Rights of Man, John Stuart Mill in On Liberty, and—the modern father of choice in education—Milton Friedman. Instead of giving government exclusive control over taxpayer funds for the education of youth, Paine, Mill, and Friedman suggested that taxpayer funds should go directly to families of school-aged children—where families would decide where their children are educated. The core issue is this: Who decides how taxpayer funds for education are spent—the government, as is largely the case now, or families?


Many reasons to support expanded educational opportunity

There are so many reasons to give families more choice in K-12 education. The balance of the extensive empirical research finds that choice programs have improved student achievement and educational attainment for students who exercise choice and improved outcomes for students who remain in public schools. Further, private schools appear to do a better job of providing students with important civic virtues like tolerance and volunteerism, and private school choice programs have promoted integration. And choice programs, including Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program, have been designed to save taxpayers money

Giving parents control over where their children are educated allows them to choose school and non-school offerings that are tailored to their children’s interests and needs. Under such a choice system, prospective schools and other education providers are incentivized to provide customized educational and social environments that meet the interests and needs of students and their families. And the evidence—including evidence here in Georgia—suggests that families that exercise choice are overwhelmingly much happier with the services in their students new schools of choice. 

In this era of COVID-19, there are now additional reasons to support educational opportunity—families have different health risk tolerances; families, students, and teachers have different underlying health conditions; and families have different health preferences. Public school districts going fully online do not permit families to sort their children into schools (and teachers to sort into schools) based on their varying health preferences. When entire public school districts go entirely online, they are providing what many families desire, but they are not providing what many other families want or need. 

As an example, a family with (a) one parent who can stay at home or work part-time from home; (b) a family member with an underlying health condition; and (c) older children may be delighted that their public school is fully online.

However, other families may not be happy with fully online schools. A family with one parent who works full-time outside the home; (b) young children; and (c) no underlying health concerns may desire five-day, full-day, face-to-face schooling with safety precautions. Online schooling may force some parents to quit their jobs. Of course, families of children with special needs may be subject to the most hardships with online schooling.

It is impossible for a one-size-fits-all approach to health concerns to meet the needs of all families. Meeting the diverse educational and social needs and interests of children—and now the differing health needs of students and their families in this era of COVID-19—is only possible in a choice system. 


What can states do to provide more educational choice to families? 

First, to the extent permitted by federal law, states should use existing and forthcoming federal education funds to offer families choice. South Carolina and Oklahoma are using federal CARES funding to provide scholarships for school-aged children. South Carolina is providing scholarships to defray private school tuition costs up to $6,500 for 5,000 students from low- and middle-income families, where $6,500 is just over half of what taxpayers spend to educate students in their public schools. 

Second, states should create new choice programs or expand existing ones.

The track record of existing education choice programs in the United States is strong. COVID-19 only makes the case for choice stronger. Hopefully, policymakers will rise to the occasion and give students and families an educational lifeline during these challenging times. 


BenJamin Scafidi

BenJamin Scafidi

Benjamin Scafidi is the director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University and a Friedman Fellow at EdChoice.



A quality education is key to a child’s future success. Academic achievement paves the way to a good job, self-sufficiency, and the earned success we all want for our children. To learn more about education options in Georgia click here

Children excited as they leave school