With much ceremony, the Georgia General Assembly kicked off the 2018 legislative session last week. Thanks to election-year buzz, candidates have fueled talk of big education reforms that could see needed movement. Because this session is expected to fly by, we have our eye on a couple of key school choice bills that could shuffle through the process quickly.
Here are two important pieces of legislation that we hope will (finally) get the traction they deserve in the State House and Senate.
Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion
No child should be denied the opportunity to seek out the education they need because of an arbitrary government roadblock, but that’s exactly what’s happening to thousands of Georgia students.
The state currently offers limited access to a popular tax credit scholarship, allowing only a small number of families an opportunity to seek out the right education for their children. However, a low cap on donated funds has meant that generous contributors- and students the program is supposed to serve- have been turned away by the state because of over-demand.
Lawmakers are said to be considering raising the program’s $58 million ceiling, which would lift barriers for many more Georgia children. Because the kids waiting in line for scholarships can’t afford another year in the wrong classroom, we’re urging the legislature to waste no time in passing an expansion of the tax credit scholarship bill.
Education Savings Accounts
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) aim to provide needed flexibility and customized education options for Georgia parents. Similar to Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) or Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), under an ESA, the state would put money into a restricted account for education expenses that parents would control.
While there are several versions of the legislation that seek to fit the needs of different families-such as those in the military or those with children who have disabilities- the passage of nearly any of these bills would make a big impact in the lives of many Georgia parents.
The Georgia Center for Opportunity is committed to removing barriers for our state’s kids so that they receive the education they need. While the legislature will have their hands full, we hope they agree that bills benefitting children and their families should stand out among their highest priorities. To follow the progress of these bills with us, check back on our blog or subscribe to the GCO’s newsletter.
We are very pleased to report that Rep. Mark Hamilton introduced a bill today to create Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in Georgia (Read HB 243: “Education Savings Account Act”). ESAs are a terrific way to give parents and their students a choice when it comes to education. They’re flexible, allow for parents to tailor their child’s education, and they allow the money to follow the child. It’s everything you want in a great school choice program.
For more info, read our press release on the legislation.
*UPDATE: February 9, 2015
Senator Hunter Hill introduced a bill to create ESAs in Georgia: Read SB 92
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.
Below is a guest blog by Dr. Eric Wearne of Georgia Gwinnett College and formerly with the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Dr. Wearne currently leads GCO’s College & Career Pathways working group.
By: Dr. Eric Wearne
What it means to be “college ready” has been a popular topic of conversation among educators in school systems, state agencies, and even at the national level for several years. Local schools certainly think about this, though they are not directly held accountable for their graduates’ outcomes (other than graduation itself). The Georgia Department of Education and the University System of Georgia have worked on college readiness definition and alignment issues for several years. SAT and ACT publish their opinions of what constitutes “college readiness” (based on their respective tests) every year. And the federal report that was meant as a “blueprint” for reform of no child left behind very clearly discusses USED’s desire to increase “college readiness.”
Over the past few months, GCO’s working group on college and career readiness has met and started defining its research agenda in the area of improving college readiness outcomes.
In its first few meetings, the group has looked specifically at college readiness. The group has chosen to focus its efforts in this area by looking at the particular issues of three sets of students:
a. Students in college but not prepared for it;
b. Students currently in high school and in danger of dropping out;
c. Students in high school (not in danger of dropping out), but not on track for college or careers.
Today, the group will meet at Georgia Gwinnett College, and will hear presentations about issues related to students in need of remediation and first-generation college students. SAT, ACT, and USED have suggested college readiness standards or goals, as noted above. More practically for Georgia schools, the University System of Georgia has defined what it means to be “college ready” through its Required High School Curriculum. The requirements are reasonable, and both public and private schools in Georgia know what these requirements are and help their students meet them. But the fact remains that large numbers of students who would like to attend college, and work toward (and often attain) these credentials are still not college ready. How might colleges support students who they have admitted, but who are not really college ready? What can K12 do to ensure that their graduates are able to do what they want to with their lives, or, as GCO often puts it, reach “middle class by middle age?” This ground is where GCO’s working group will conduct its research and find recommendations.
This is just the first stage in the group’s work. In the coming months, the group will look more specifically at career readiness, broadly-defined: career academies, vocational education, apprenticeships, etc. Other areas the group will explore as it works toward policy recommendations are: looking at the impact of teacher effectiveness, teacher training, and teacher career responsibilities on college- and career-readiness outcomes; exploring the possibilities that may come from online learning technologies and related strategies such as competency-based learning; and other areas the group finds necessary and worthwhile.