Conservative school choice advocates are ecstatic that long-time voucher and charter school backer Betsy DeVos is President Trump’s Education Secretary. As she moves to expand educational options across the nation, however, she might find that sometimes her boss’s friends are her enemies. That’s the story in Georgia, where an effort to expand a wildly popular tax credit program that provides private school scholarships was sunk by the GOP-controlled State Senate.
Bolstered by a 2016 ballot question showing that Georgia Republicans backed school choice by a 3–1 margin, school choice advocates introduced a bill this winter which would have increased the annual cap on tax credits for donations to school scholarship funds from $58 million now to $180 million in 2022. According to Randy Hicks, president and CEO of the pro-choice Georgia Center for Opportunity, this would have immediately increased the number of choice scholarships awarded because there are already millions of dollars more in tax credits that are applied for each year than there is money to award under the cap.
The GOP-controlled House passed the measure easily. But the State Senate refused to go along.
More school choice didn’t die because of lack of money: Georgia’s state revenue is going up in pace with a vibrant economy. Instead, Senate Republicans chose to spend the money available on other priorities.
One priority was giving new tax credits to yacht owners who have their boats repaired or retrofitted in Georgia. Another increased the amount of the annual tax credits available to film producers whose movies were made in the Peach State; a third created a new tax credit to encourage music performers and recorders to come to Georgia. Other tax breaks for business included hikes in tax credits for donations to rural hospitals and a new tax credit for investment in rural Georgia.
When the chips were down, Senators preferred helping yacht owners and Hollywood rather than helping Georgia’s kids.
The Georgia Center for Opportunity, the Peach State’s leading school-choice advocate group, released a scorecard last week that gives every state legislator a grade based on how much he or she backed choice measures in the recently completed legislative session. According to the center’s press release,”the Georgia House of Representatives proved to be significantly more friendly to the idea of giving parents more choice in education. The House, led by Speaker David Ralston, received an A grade compared to the Senate, led by Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, which received an overall grade of D.”
The battle over school choice is not over. Republican voters will get to decide how important this issue is to them in next year’s gubernatorial and legislative primaries, many of which will feature spirited challenges. The CEO’s scorecard will be one resource voters can use to make their choice. And perhaps some people at 400 Maryland Avenue, SW should get a copy too and learn the lay of the land before they decide whether they need to march through Georgia.