House Bill 301 would give state money to cover the tuition and associated fees of some students whose guardians want to send them to private school. In short, it’s a voucher bill. It’s legislation that will take public tax dollars and divert them to private institutions. Any student that has been in one of Georgia’s public schools for at least a year prior is eligible to apply for the program; the only waiver for this requirement is for low-income families, a student with a learning disability or a victim of bullying. If the student is approved and awarded a “scholarship”, it will be paid for by the state portion of funding that would otherwise go to the public school for that student. While this legislation will initially cap the number of students that can participate at a half of a percent, this number will inevitably rise over time. This bill presents a real threat to our state’s education system and would set a dangerous precedent of direct state funding to private schools.
This program has very broad qualifications and is clearly a pilot program for a much wider reaching voucher program. When facing the prospect of reducing funds to public schools to pay for 5% of its students to attend private school instead, it is imperative that we not allow for potential further expansion. Private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools initially, and then there are fewer ways to check the progress of the students while they are in school. The Brookings Institution did an evaluation of school voucher programs and found that students that went from public to private school with a voucher actually declined in performance for math and science. While we respect a person’s personal choice to send their children to private schools, it’s difficult to justify using taxpayers money to pay for students to attend these schools when our states public school system is already underfunded.
Although the bill only provides for funding for 0.5% of students enrolled in a Georgia public school, it has provisions to increase this budget by half a percentage of total enrolled students each year until it reaches 5%. Allowing for the state to fund 5% of Georgia students previously enrolled in public schools to attend private school instead will do nothing to improve our public schools and is not an efficient use of educational funding.
We can all agree that there are challenges with our education system, and there are proactive steps we can take to correct them. However, this bill is a prime example of regressive education policy. Instead of focusing on giving public dollars to these private schools, we should be raising up our public schools. Our education policy should focus on wraparound education, pushing policies like smaller class sizes, fine arts programs, reduction of standardized tests, robust after-school programs, more equitable per-student spending, and better paid teachers. House Bill 301 could eventually remove the easiest-to-educate students from our public schools, and further diminish their already strained budgets.