Georgia lawmaker’s bill would bring school choice to vulnerable students

(The Center Square) – A Georgia lawmaker has proposed legislation that would provide more education choices for parents by allowing public education funds to be used for private school tuition.

The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act, introduced by Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, would create educational scholarship accounts for Georgia students. Cantrell, a former public school teacher, said doing so would expand learning opportunities for students in the state.

“I know that even the best public or private schools in our state cannot meet the needs of every student,” Cantrell said. “Just as every child is unique, so are their educational needs. The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act will address those needs by bringing a more personalized and flexible education plan to parents and students throughout the state of Georgia.”

The legislation would redirect 100% of the state funding for each student to an approved private school. The account would be available for families with incomes 200% below the federal poverty level, military families, students who have been adopted from foster care, those with special needs, a disability or those who have been bullied. It also would be extended to students who don’t have access to remote learning.

Buzz Brockway, vice president of public policy at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, said education scholarship accounts could balance the scale for low-income families.

“The pandemic has shown us firsthand the importance of access and options in education. For many of us, that importance has come into focus for the first time,” Brockway said. “But these struggles have always been faced by low-income and impoverished communities in our state, who lack access to the same opportunities as most of us enjoy.”

If the bill becomes law, it will apply to 0.5% of the total public school population – or 8,500 students in Georgia. That number would increase by 0.5% each year and be capped at 5% or in 10 years. Students would be tested to measure the program’s effectiveness, and schools would be responsible for maintaining financial reports.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday the state would earmark federal coronavirus disaster relief funds to help families struggling to find the right education options for their children during the pandemic. His office plans to allocate $10 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to reimburse “at-risk students and families.”

Brockway said direct payment assistance is the best way to keep vulnerable students from falling further behind during the pandemic, and it offers them more flexibility.

The South Carolina Supreme Court struck down a similar proposal by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster in October.

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