As Georgia’s 2018 legislative session marches to a close this week, will lawmakers act to expand Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program? Legislation pending in the state Senate, if passed, would yield huge benefits for families in desperate need of educational options.
First, a bit of background. Originally passed in 2008, the tax credit scholarships currently provide up to $58 million in scholarships so that students from low-income, working-class, and minority families can attend high-quality private schools that better meet their academic needs.
Here’s how the program works: The law allows private citizens and corporations to receive tax credits for donations to nonprofit Student Scholarship Organizations, which then administer scholarships across the state on behalf of needy kids. In 2015 alone, over 13,000 students received scholarships. The beautiful part of the program is that it creates the opportunity for Georgians to be charitable in support of school choice, while also benefiting families in need of better academic options.
Because the program is capped at $58 million—a limitation that’s been in place for a decade now—families and students have been waitlisted trying to access the scholarships. Thankfully, House Bill 217 would take an important stride toward reducing that problem by raising the cap to $65 million.
Previous versions of the bill were even more ambitious by raising the cap to $100 million in a graduated course of six years, effectively doubling the size of the program and bringing educational choice to as many as 130,000 students. Although the current version is pared down, it is still a step in the right direction.
House Bill 217 could come up for a floor vote in the Senate this week. But, as Atlanta-Journal Constitution columnist Kyle Wingfield writes, the bill faces a new hurdle—a proposal to automatically sunset tax credits after a certain period of time:
Why should that kind of program be subjected to an automatic sunset, and all the uncertainty that creates for families? As Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told me, to explain why he cautions against putting a sunset on the program, “these scholarships more times than not follow students for most, if not all, of their k-12 education.” Blindly ending the program will truly harm those students.
The idea seems to be that if something is worth doing, it must be worth stopping — without regard to how much good it’s doing.
Requiring more data reporting (as this bill does) and a periodic review of the program that stops short of automatically ending it would increase accountability without adding needless uncertainty. If that’s what senators really want, that’s what they should do.
As the General Assembly enters its final weeks of the session, now is the time for lawmakers to act on this crucial bill. Indeed, heading into the 2018 election year, lawmakers should have education as one of their top priorities. According to a January poll conducted by the University of Georgia, Peach State voters named “education” as the single most important issue facing the state today.