Senate bill could make some students eligible for school vouchers

The bill would grant eligible families $6,000 that could be used on alternative forms of education.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 6:47 PM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) -

Parents could soon have more options for educating their kids, if Georgia House lawmakers can win the approval of a bill that would create a voucher program for some families.

Senate Bill 233 survived legislative crossover day and passed the chamber along party lines. The bill would grant eligible families $6,000 that could be used on alternative forms of education. Not all families would qualify immediately; only families who live in attendance zones for the bottom-performing 25% of Georgia public schools would be up for grant consideration.

“We’ve just had a number of parents who’ve approached us that are looking for an option to public school,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Greg Dolezal (R - Cumming). “That may be private school, that may be virtual school, that may be home school, but they couldn’t afford it.”

Dolezal said during the pandemic, Georgia stopped ranking schools. His bill would dictate that rankings start back up again so the bottom 25% of public schools, and thus eligible families, could be determined.

“The 25% really narrowed the focus to focus just on those kids who arguably need it the most,” said Dolezal.

The bill also addresses another concern for opponents of school choice: accountability. Private schools aren’t subject to the same scrutiny as public institutions. Dolezal said he considered that in crafting the legislation.

“We’ve got annualized testing for every student who is a part of the program,” he said. “I’ve got three of my kids in public school, they don’t even have annual testing. So the kids who are part of this program will have more standardized testing that will be made public than anybody in public school currently.”

For opponents of school choice, it’s less about what potentially eligible families are getting with the grants and more about what public school families are losing. The voucher program comes with a hefty estimated $200 million price tag.

“Ultimately that is money that could be going to public schools,” said state Senator Jason Esteves (D - Atlanta). “When you’re looking at the bottom 25% of schools in the state, they are in highly impoverished areas, for the most part. And what those students, those families need, is resources and help to tackle poverty.”

Senate Democrats didn’t afford the bill a single vote in the chamber. Esteves and other opponents worry that not every family that qualifies will even benefit. For starters, families would need to be close enough to the school they want to enroll their kids in. He also noted it costs far more than $6,000 for private school education.

“It’s a false choice, because many of those students don’t have access to private schools, and to the extent they do, they’re not $6,000,” he said.

Dolezal says the bill would require public schools to be fully funded before the voucher program goes into effect and noted millions in investments the state has provided to Georgia’s public education funding over the administration of Governor Brian Kemp, including insurance for teachers, teacher pay raises, school safety grants, learning loss grants.