Snow Can’t Stop This Crowd for School Choice

By Dr. Danielle LeSure, GCO’s Director of Education Policy

Amazingly, over 600 students, parents, teachers, and school leaders crowded the Capitol in the middle of a snow storm to cheer for school choice options—charter schools, public school transfers, special needs and tax credit scholarship programs— on Tuesday, January 28.


Students have their photo taken to share their support of School Choice through social media.

After touring the Capitol and visiting with legislators, students were greeted by never ending snow flurries. While waiting for the rally to start on the steps of the Capitol, Governor Nathan Deal (GA) announced the closing of all state government buildings. Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Vice President Eric Cochling approached the crowd of students that were dancing to the song “Happy” from Despicable Me to deliver the news and lead everyone in a cheer. From the streets surrounding the Capitol you could hear voices shouting “more school choice, more school choice.”


Eric Cochling addresses the crowd at the rally and leads the cheers of “More school Choice!”

Though we were unable to hear from our scheduled speakers Governor Deal and actress Keshia Knight Pulliam who are strong supporters of choice, we did get to hear from those who benefit most from school choice—Georgia students.  As they left, their footprints in the snow symbolized Georgia’s journey in the school choice movement. While we have many options in Georgia, there are still over 5,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools and many more students longing for a better option but private school costs are not affordable for their parents.

Georgia does not stand alone in its efforts to increase support for school choice. During the week of the rally, there were over 5,500 events nationwide celebrating school choice options. This is a record high according to an article by National School Choice Week.


Two students showcasing the signs they prepared for the rally.

If you are or know of a parent who needs more information about choice or would like to become an advocate please visit the Georgia Parents Alliance. Together, we can continue to make a difference!

Demand for Choice High: Education Tax Credit Cap Reached in Record 22 Days

Just this past week, Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship program reached its cap of allowable donation commitments (currently, $58 million) in well under a month. That’s the earliest the cap has been reached in the program’s history, three and a half months earlier than last year, when the cap was reached on May 9th.

Add to the early cap the fact that Student Scholarship Organizations (SSO’s), those groups tasked with distributing tax credit scholarships, nearly universally report long waiting lists of students seeking a scholarship and it becomes clear that the program is in high demand.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that a school choice program in Georgia is overrun with interest.

Charter schools have long experienced high demand, with lotteries becoming necessary to decide which children are selected among the many who want to attend. Of course, parents are expressing their desire for additional choices in other ways, including sacrificing to send their children to private schools and, in an ever growing trend, teaching their children at home.

Given Georgia’s record on educational achievement, it’s really no wonder parents and their kids are looking for something better. That said, the desire for choice often has as much to do about wanting to escape an unsuitable school environment as with academic achievement.

That’s exactly why we’re hosting a rally at the Capitol tomorrow to celebrate National School Choice Week. While we are happy about the progress Georgia has made in increasing education options in recent years, less than 1 percent of Georgia’s more than 1.6 million students has been able to access Georgia’s school choice options.

Our tax credit program cap of $58 million annually may seem like a lot but compared to other states, it’s just a beginning of what’s needed to meet the demand. Florida’s program, for example, is currently capped at $286 million annually and grows each year automatically while Louisiana’s program has no cap at all.

Not only are Georgia’s current school choice programs limited, but for the 57% of Georgia students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, options are limited yet again because – unlike wealthier families – they are often unable to move to a district with better public schools.

The net result is that if the local public school isn’t suitable for them, they have nowhere else to turn.

With many billions of dollars spent in Georgia each year on public education, there is no excuse for a child being trapped in any particular school. We should demand more for Georgia’s children.

Cage-Busting Leadership: Reforming Public Education from Within

Our team at GCO had the privilege of hosting Dr. Rick Hess this week. On Tuesday, Dr. Hess, who is an education scholar (and prolific writer) with the American Enterprise Institute, spoke at an early morning breakfast attended by a group of about 45 people that included politicians, lobbyists, academics, parents, and policy wonks.

While the crowd was diverse, each person shared a common concern about the depressing condition of public education in the state of Georgia and wanted to hear Dr. Hess’ thoughts on the subject. He didn’t disappoint.

Using his book Cage-Busting Leadership as the springboard, Dr. Hess challenged the group to consider how much innovation and real reform could be achieved within the current education system if administrators, teachers, and concerned parents stopped taking “no” for an answer.

He shared example after example of people who were able to break through the “cage bars” erected by overly risk-averse school system lawyers or years of outdated rules that still clogged school procedures and hamstrung teachers from addressing student needs.

The bottom line: With a little questioning and a lot of grit, it is possible to change the system so that children receive better educations.

Although Dr. Hess focused on ways to improve the system from within, he didn’t shy away from endorsing school choice as an important tool for giving children more and better options – and incentivizing the public system to improve. Wisely, though, he warned the audience that just changing laws – even something as significant as vouchers – will not be sufficient in itself to really change education if everyone at the school level simply continues to accept business  as usual.

In addition to legal reforms that allow parental choice and school flexibility, we must have pioneering and system-challenging educators and parents willing to question the status quo every time any engrained practice misses the mark of promoting our children’s best interests.

Those were all great points by Dr. Hess and a wonderful reminder that we have more power to change things than we may realize just by asking the question “Why not?”

Join us in asking that question and pushing for reforms that free parents and children to have more educational options and free excellent teachers to change lives.

CBS Covers Breakthrough Norcross Reception at NHS

Monday afternoon, December 2, Breakthrough Norcross celebrated the completion of its three-part “listening tour” with an authentic White House Reception held at Norcross High School.

Prior to the reception, the last of three working meetings were held in which nearly 30 representatives from numerous business, non-profits, churches, and schools reviewed and made final contributions to the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact strategy.

To aid in celebrating this great milestone, Walter Scheib, former White House Executive Chef to the Clinton and Bush administrations, prepared a wonderful meal for meeting participants, as well as numerous other community representatives invited to hear about Breakthrough Norcross’  cradle to career plan for collective impact.

For those unable to join us, CBS Atlanta covered the event.  See their re-cap here.

Taste Shop Give 2013…An Event to Remember

Did you miss our Taste Shop Give event on Thursday, November 7th? If so, you passed up an opportunity to experience some fantastic music, enjoy an incredible meal, bid on some amazing live auction items, and meet some awesome people who are dedicated to our mission at Georgia Center for Opportunity.

GCO’s third annual Taste Shop Give event was held at The Ballroom at Twelve, Atlantic Station. Former White House chef Walter Scheib prepared a formal State dinner in the same fashion as he has prepared countless banquets for heads of State during his tenure under presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The dinner included field greens with balsamic dressing and baked goat cheese; stuffed pecan crusted chicken breast filled with smoked mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes; parmesan risotto; French beans with a roasted yellow pepper sauce; and vanilla ice cream with warm banana caramel compote.

This mouthwatering meal was served up by our Breakthrough Ambassadors, high school students from Norcross High School. They did such a great job serving you would never have known they weren’t professionals.

Taste Shop Give 2013 featured uplifting musical entertainment from three inspirational solo artists, Mary Millben, Shay Watson and Peter Lee Johnson.  Mary has been a featured vocal soloist at The White House and the Kennedy Center, and for events hosting presidents, George W. Bush and Barak Obama, and many others. She sang a gorgeous version of “Georgia on My Mind”, among other songs, for our Taste Shop Give guests. Shay Watson has carved out a place for himself in the global music community as a songwriter, artist and producer. He sang a few of his original pieces and together Mary and Shay sang a duet of “Oh Happy Day” which was quite moving. Peter Lee Johnson is a young violin genius who played a variety of popular cover songs during the evening. You can see below that even some of the Breakthrough Ambassadors joined in on the entertainment.

After the dinner, entertainment, and good conversation, the evening was wrapped up with a live auction. There were several great items auctioned off including an electric violin signed by Peter Lee Johnson, a home entertainment system, an Italian getaway, a premier cruise excursion, and an exclusive set of Pickard Whitehouse tableware – all donations are used to support our mission to remove barriers to opportunity and ultimately help more Georgians achieve a better life.

If you missed our event this year, please join us next year. If you were able to attend, we sincerely thank you for your support!!!

Taste Shop Give 2013…You Are Invited!

You do not want to miss Taste Shop Give, Thursday, November 7th! If you were with us last year at the Atlanta History Center you will remember the great entertainment and awesome selection of auction items, as well as the featured favorite dishes of various U.S. Presidents, all prepared under the direction of renowned former White House chef Walter Scheib.


This year, Georgia Center for Opportunity’s third annual Taste Shop Give event will be held at The Ballroom at Twelve, Atlantic Station. The evening will include a live auction, allowing you the chance to bid on some fantastic items. Even better, Chef Scheib will be preparing a formal State dinner in the same fashion as he has prepared countless banquets for heads of State during his tenure under presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. You will also be presented with an inspiring story of his experience working at the White House when our great Nation was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. This is an exclusive perspective that few of us have the privilege to hear.

Taste Shop Give 2013 will also feature uplifting musical entertainment from two inspirational solo artists, Mary Millben and Shay Watson.  Mary has been a featured soloist at The White House and the Kennedy Center, and for events hosting presidents, George W. Bush and Barak Obama, and many others. She performed at the 43rd Super Bowl halftime show with Bruce Springsteen and made her New York theatre debut in the Ray Roderick musical ‘S Wonderful. Prior to entertainment, Millben served as a presidential appointee to President George W. Bush and was recently named a global ambassador for Education Africa.


Shay Watson (  has carved out a place for himself in the global music community as a songwriter, artist and producer. He has written and recorded music with numerous U.S. artists in a variety of genres. He has also had chart success in Europe. Shay is actively involved in Mission of Mercy, a Christian relief mission that helps find sponsors for poverty stricken children in underprivileged areas of the world.

These two artists are not only talented musicians, but socially active contributors to society.

This year we have a generous donor who is willing to match up to $50,000 in donations collected the evening of Taste Shop Give. Donations will be used to support our Breakthrough Georgia initiative. Our mission is to remove barriers to opportunity and ultimately help more Georgians achieve a better life. We do this by focusing our research, advocacy and delivery support on pathways that lead to success and self-sufficiency.

You can become a part of our mission! Join us November 7th for and unforgettable evening. For more information and to register as a guest, please access our event website