Expanded education options will soon be available to thousands of Georgia families, thanks to two measures approved in the closing hours of the General Assembly’s session last week. The last-minute approvals came at a time when school-choice advocates were losing hope that meaningful action would take place on parental school choice reforms this year. Both bills now await Governor Nathan Deal’s signature before becoming law.
The first measure, House Bill 217, nearly doubles the size of Georgia’s popular Tax Credit Scholarship Program beginning in 2019. Currently, the program is capped at $58 million per year, but the new bill raises that cap to $100 million. These tax-credit scholarships are available to help students from low-income, working-class, and minority families attend high-quality private schools that better meet their academic needs. More than 13,000 students in Georgia are benefiting from these scholarships right now.
Unfortunately, the bill also contains a “sunset provision” that pushes the cap back down to $58 million beginning in 2029. But lawmakers will have ample opportunity to eliminate that sunset over the next few years, particularly as demand for the Tax Credit Scholarship Program will undoubtedly continue to grow. Here at Georgia Center for Opportunity, we’ll advocate for eliminating this sunset to ensure the program remains well-funded perpetually.
The second measure, House Bill 787, authorizes more funding for charter schools, bringing them into greater parity with funding for traditional public schools. “This bill does not achieve full funding equity, but it is a significant step forward for Georgia students who are enrolled in a state charter school,” said Tony Roberts, President and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “This bill will help ensure that students and families who chose a public charter school because it best meets the needs of their children will not be financially penalized.”
Although acknowledging these significant strides for school choice during the legislative session, school-choice advocates were disappointed that lawmakers fell short of passing House Bill 482. If approved, the measure would have made Georgia the seventh state to pass Education Savings Accounts (ESA), an innovative way for parents to pay for non-public educational options for their children.