Education

Ga. Lawmakers Introduce Bills That Would Expand School Voucher Programs

School vouchers have plenty of supporters and opponents. Georgia lawmakers have introduced two new bills that would expand the state's existing voucher programs.
School vouchers have plenty of supporters and opponents. Georgia lawmakers have introduced two new bills that would expand the state's existing voucher programs.
Credit Ian Palmer / for WABE

State legislators have drafted two new school voucher bills that would extend Georgia’s existing programs.

Senate Bill 386 would increase the number of students who qualify for the Special Needs Scholarship program. House Bill 939 would keep the cap on Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship program at $100 million. Lawmakers could still consider a third type of voucher plan called Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) if they reconsider Senate Bill 173, introduced last session.

The Special Needs Scholarship provides vouchers to students who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and attend a Georgia public school for one year. SB 386 would extend eligibility to students with a 504 Plan as well as children who have been adopted and some who have been placed in foster care.

To receive special services in public schools, students usually need to have either an IEP or a 504. Families who qualify for this scholarship tend to get a voucher for the amount the state would spend on the student in public school.

Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship lets taxpayers make donations toward Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) in return for a dollar-for-dollar credit on their state income tax. The SSOs then use the money to provide scholarships for public school students to attend private schools.

The program is currently capped at $100 million, but that’s supposed to shrink to $58 million in the year 2029. However, HB 939 would allow the program to keep the $100 million cap.

Lawmakers could also reconsider SB 173, a bill that would let parents use state money to develop savings accounts for their children. The money could be used for a range of education expenses, including private school tuition and tutoring services.

Critics of school vouchers say the programs divert money intended for public schools toward private ones without much accountability.

WABE education reporter Martha Dalton spoke with Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Wingfield and the foundation both support school vouchers. In the extended conversation below, he explains why.

Extended interview
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