Private school vouchers back on the state legislative agenda | AJC

Private school vouchers back on the state legislative agenda | AJC

Private school vouchers back on the state legislative agenda | AJC

Pandemic precautions have set the stage for an unusual legislative session, but one thing hasn’t changed: the years-long feud over public funding of private education in Georgia.

For several years, some lawmakers have pushed to spend more state money on private educational expenses, including tuition, and this year Rep. Wes Cantrell is back with his proposal to give certain parents access to more state tax dollars….

The conservative Georgia Center for Opportunity, meanwhile, supports the legislation, saying it ensures “equal access to quality education options,” regardless of factors such as race or socioeconomic status.

 
Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

By David Bass

There has been much focus—and rightly so—on the nearly 370,000 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., plus the millions more who have been touched by this terrible disease in some way

What hasn’t gotten as much attention are the unseen victims of the pandemic: The tens of millions of low-income, vulnerable students who have experienced devastating learning losses due to school closures and lack of educational options.

Highlighting this disturbing trend, McKinsey & Company recently put out an assessment of student learning outcomes during COVID-19 school closures. The results are bleak: Students of color are about three to five months behind in learning, while white students are one to three months behind.

 

Worsening educational inequities 

The sad reality is that virtual learning tends to favor wealthier, whiter families who have access to the types of resources needed to make this environment successful. Families of means have the resources to purchase whatever educational resources they deem necessary—from private-school tuition to individual tutors to new equipment to having one parent cut back their work hours in order to serve as a learning facilitator at home. 

 Low-income families don’t have these options. Many of them lack access to even basic reliable Internet or a desktop or laptop computer, not to mention a quiet place to learn and active parental involvement.

 

More options needed right now

A common refrain here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity when it comes to education is this: We can’t afford to wait another date to bring real options to Georgia students. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the urgency.

2020 has come and gone, and sadly it is too late to stem the tide of learning losses for our most vulnerable populations. But we can do new things in 2021 to help struggling students.

It begins by providing access to the widest range of educational options possible—to give immediate access to these options for all families regardless of income, zip code, or race. That option might look like a locally zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. 

Some parents feel most comfortable keeping their children home in an exclusively virtual learning environment. Others want their kids back in school full-time. The need is for options, not top-down declarations or one-size-fits-all approaches. This means that schools must reopen for families who feel comfortable returning their children to in-classroom instruction.

If our goal is truly to achieve educational equity regardless of income or neighborhood, then expanded options are essential, now more than ever.

 

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.

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps: The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

Welfare Cliffs and Gaps:

The role health insurance plays in upward mobility

By Shana Burres

Cody and Estelle are a young married couple living in a suburban neighborhood. Cody has a full-time job and Estelle is a nanny so she can have their daughter with her at work. They make just enough money to pay the rent on their small home and pay their bills, but there is rarely anything left over each month. They are not middle class but they are above the poverty line, and they are facing a potential financial crisis because of health care costs.  

Cody’s work offers an insurance plan but does not subsidize the cost and the monthly premium for a family is more than their rent. Because of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they qualify for a government-subsidized plan. The coverage is poor and the deductibles are high. They are one emergency room trip or unexpected surgery away from a dire financial situation.

Cody is working on building a part-time freelance business so they can have some savings and buy a more reliable car. But he is hesitant to promote it because too much of an increase in income will push them over the ACA’s income threshold and they will lose their health care subsidy. They still wouldn’t be able to afford the employer-sponsored plan and would lose coverage entirely. 

They are facing the welfare cliff, forced to choose between self-improvement and maintaining necessary services. If they increase their income, they are at risk of falling into the welfare gap—too much income for services, not enough income to cover the costs.

The implications of the loss of health care coverage reach into their and their daughter’s future. Health insurance, and the associated continuity of care, correlated directly with academic success in the short term and life success in the long term.  At a  basic level, health care means that students are better able to engage in their academics and miss fewer days of school.

In slightly more complex terms, lacking health insurance, along with other factors related to instability, is part of the social determinants of health. These social determinants are a cluster of lived experiences that include food instability, homelessness, and poverty. They are direct predictors of poor health and, as noted, poor health contributes to poorer academic and social outcomes. While programs or funding can often address homelessness and poverty, food instability is a reflection of the resources a family has available to purchase food. For a family like Cody and Estella’s, this may be seen as the choice between groceries and paying for an urgent care visit and a prescription for their daughter. 

For them and the vast majority of people in the United State, health insurance is the barrier to care. People who live at or below the poverty line have access to medical coverage through Medicaid. And families who live far above the poverty line can access health insurance through work or afford to pay for the premiums through the health exchange. However, the evidence shows that children who are near, but not under, the poverty line have the lowest rates of health insurance. These children and their families live in the welfare gap, a reality for many living in Georgia. This means that Georgia’s families need solutions for ongoing health care to support their long-term success.

The most effective solutions are those that acknowledge the immediate needs of families and address the need for policy change. Currently, many programs are aimed at the individual or involve community-based interventions that partner health care with social service delivery systems. And these programs can be useful and effective as solutions to the immediate needs of families living in the welfare gap. Unfortunately, these health management programs do not address the upstream institutional, systemic, and public policy drivers of the distribution disparities. 

Georgia’s families deserve upstream solutions that address the welfare gap and support their efforts to be participants in their health care and long-term outcomes. Three interconnected approaches offer equitable and proven access:

Untether healthcare from employers

According to the US Census Bureau, approximately 55% of people have access to health insurance coverage through their employer. This tethering of health insurance to employment leads to disruptions of coverage due to job loss or change. Therefore, untethering healthcare from its connection to employment would allow people to pursue jobs, education, or entrepreneurship free from the limitation of health insurance access or cost. 

Make shopping for health insurance easier

As cost is the most significant factor influencing people’s access to health insurance, the second approach is to make shopping for health insurance the same as shopping for any other type of insurance. Individuals could compare coverage, cost, and other options across multiple providers, which would empower them to choose the product best suited to their particular needs. Currently, most people have little to no choice in which insurance product they receive from their employer and the cost is more closely related to the company’s ability to negotiate a favorable contract than it is to the types of benefits the employees need. 

Offer government subsidies that do not create welfare cliffs

Of course, employers often also subsidize a portion of their company health insurance plan, and subsidies are one of the ways insurance is made more affordable for their employees.  The third approach, government subsidies, would ensure these benefits are equitable and accessible to the whole population and not reliant on an employer. While government-funded health insurance already exists and subsidies are available through the ACA marketplace, the current method does not address  welfare cliffs or close the welfare gap. Therefore, the policy should be updated to a means-tested  eligibility system that eliminates marriage penalties and the breakpoints that contribute to the welfare cliff. 

For our couple, Cody and Estelle, this new approach to health insurance would allow them to gain sufficient coverage for their whole family without spending a disproportionate amount of their income on health care costs. It would allow Cody to build his freelance business and improve their quality of life without fear of losing health insurance while their income grows. 

Every person in Georgia deserves to live a healthy and fulfilling life. Access to healthcare is a necessary component of their success. These three approaches will remove barriers to access, equalize costs, and ensure support is available to those who need it. 

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.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

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.

Private school vouchers back on the state legislative agenda | AJC

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.