Georgia’s Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to a controversial private school scholarship program. The ruling could be considered a ‘win’ for school choice advocates.
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Under the program, Georgians can donate to a scholarship fund, called a Student Scholarship Organization, or SSO. They would then get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for that money. The amounts are capped: $1000 for a single person; $2500 for a married couple. Businesses can donate thousands more.
SSOs issue the scholarships to public school students who want to go to private schools, including religious institutions.
A group of taxpayers sued the Georgia Department of Revenue, saying it is unconstitutional to use public tax dollars to fund private schools. The high court said the group did not have the standing—or right—to pursue the case. In its opinion, the court said donations that go toward the scholarship fund are not public dollars.
“No money’s ever entering or leaving the treasury, so private donations really don’t give you standing,” says Mark Goldfeder, senior lecturer at Emory Law School and senior fellow in Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion.
To establish standing, the taxpayers had to show the scholarship program caused harm. They argued using the scholarships to send more students to private schools could hurt public schools. However, the court disagreed with that assumption.
“[Public schools are] getting back various things in terms of educational benefit: a more educated citizenry; better competition in the schools; more options; less overcrowding in public schools, etcetera,” Goldfeder says.
The state Supreme Court says its ruling is supported by similar decisions in state and federal courts.