Opinion: Why Georgia should blow the lid off its scholarship cap

Create a state program. Watch it achieve not only strong popularity, but cost savings as well. And then put a suffocating lid on it.

For years, that’s been the bittersweet story of Georgia’s tax-credit scholarships, which allow donors to approved scholarship organizations (known as SSOs) to claim a dollar-for-dollar credit against their state income taxes. More than 13,500 students receive scholarships funded by these private gifts, almost certainly saving the state millions of dollars per year, yet the amount of tax credits the state makes available hasn’t budged. But the wait may finally be over.

Georgia students attend a school choice rally in Atlanta, January 2014. (AJC/Kent D. Johnson)

Georgia students attend a school choice rally in Atlanta, January 2014. (AJC/Kent D. Johnson)

A pair of House bills would each raise the annual cap from the current $58 million to $150 million, and even higher in the future. The sponsors are a pair of Cobb County Republicans, John Carson and Sam Teasley, whose constituents wouldn’t necessarily benefit but who understand the need is great outside their districts.

“We recognize the students in our communities frankly are offered very good choices,” says Teasley. “At the same time, I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all, either. One size may fit most, but not all. I want parents to have additional options if they feel the school doesn’t fit their needs, for whatever reason, and not be limited by their income. These scholarships make it possible for them to exercise that choice.”

The reasons parents might want a different option, Carson notes, range from their children’s special needs, to exposure to illegal drugs, and more.

“I literally have emails from parents whose kids are bullied because their father serves in law enforcement,” says Carson. “I have emails from parents who say this program has caught their son or daughter up, because they were doing poorly in math – in two years, it’s caught them up four grade levels in math.

“This is what parents want, this is what students want, this is in the best interest of the state, and frankly the average scholarship awarded is less than the state contributes per pupil.”

A variety of factors have conspired to stunt the program’s growth. Some SSOs have conflicting opinions about how the program should expand. The education establishment claims the program takes money away from public schools. (In fact, the scholarships cost about $1,000 to $1,400 less than the state’s average per-pupil expenditure, so funding per student would actually fall if the tax credits — and those 13,500 students — were shifted to public schools.).

There has also been talk about reducing the credit below that dollar-for-dollar match, but Carson and Teasley offer several reasons why their bills keep the match at 100 percent. No state with a 100 percent match has ever lowered it. Pennsylvania’s program, which has lower match levels, failed to attract more donors (and thus generate more scholarship money) even after the cap was raised by two-thirds. And a similar program here in Georgia designed to raise money for rural hospitals has been very slow to gain traction, in largest part because it offers only a 70 percent match.

“In order to impact kids’ lives, and provide these scholarship opportunities, we really need to maintain dollar-for-dollar on the credit,” Carson says. “The parents want it, the kids want it, and it costs less money. Why would we not do it?”

Reader Comments 0

177 comments
Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Now we have evidence that Flynn worked with the Russians assuring them sanctions would be eased etc


Trump has to go. Soon

Diane
Diane

So, here's my question :  If Mr. and Mrs. John Jones want Junior to attend Westminster, then our tax money will fund the difference needed to meet the annual tuition of something over $25,000 ?  If not , where's the choice in this ?

GMT1967
GMT1967

@LilBarryBailout @Diane Not entirely sure how you manage to believe there is no tax money involved...this is directly funded by a tax credit, meaning that it is a redirection of tax dollars that otherwise would have gone to the general fund.  Cannot twist it any other way - parents are free to donate to private schools to fund scholarships as much as they like which would not involve tax money....but this "donation" buys them a 1 for 1 tax credit that directly pays them back using GA tax dollars (by reducing their GA tax bill by the amount of the donation).

GMT1967
GMT1967

@LilBarryBailout @Diane Outside of the cash flow timing, you could achieve the same impact by simply allowing people to check a box on their tax return choosing to redirect a portion of their taxes owed to a SSO.  Only reason it is not done that way is because there is a choice of which SSO can get it and because there is a cap on the total that can be donated....

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@GMT1967 @LilBarryBailout @Diane

That it's not tax money is the whole point.  If it were tax money, it couldn't be used for these scholarships.

The scholarships remove the burden of educating the beneficiary children from the public schools, lowering their cost and benefiting the tax payer.

You're welcome.

GMT1967
GMT1967

Nice try - it is a "donation" guaranteed to be repaid with tax money 1 for 1 - semantics can make you feel good but you know it's the same thing.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Wrong. It is a tax credit with AFAIK no offsetting revenue. It just means less revenue for the state, which is OK because it also means fewer kids in government schools.

JoeWisenbaker
JoeWisenbaker

Why not broaden the way the program works and allow people to make fully tax-deductible contributions to our own public schools? That might be a great way to address how the state has consistently shifted the public school funding load from the state to local districts. And, it would provide a mechanism for those of us who do feel our local schools work to overcome some of the limitations on what local property taxes can accomplish.


LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@JoeWisenbaker

Some years ago, that's essentially how it worked.  People who didn't mind paying more in taxes had better schools.  That was deemed "raaaaaaaacist".

Cash
Cash

Where is the accountability for the tax-supported scholarships? Who gets them? How much is given to what schools? You seem to be young and have little exposure to public schools? Did you attend a public school? How much time have you spent in a public school classroom? Are you fully versed on the track record of the traditional public, public charter and privately-run, for profit charter schools? I challenge you to think outside your box of conservative rhetoric. Do some in depth investigation of ALEC and those who are members of it.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@Cash

They aren't "tax-supported".  They're donor-supported.

So the accountability is via the parents.

GMT1967
GMT1967

@LilBarryBailout @Cash The parents who are redirecting some of the GA taxes to an SSO are not the parents of the kids receiving the scholarships....in most cases they are motivated to help the private school where their kids attend by suffering a small cash flow timing issue to use the tax credit to support their kids' private school....because most SSOs allow them to direct which school receives the funds, just not which student specifically receives the aid.  There is no accountability regarding how well the school actually educates the scholarship recipients, although as noted in my other comment right now with the limitations on how many kids can receive them it would not be surprising if most are perfectly happy....because outside of a few schools who might attempt to game the system to support an otherwise weak rural private school with SSO dollars, the majority of the recipients are metro Atlanta private schools who were already doing well....

AudreyMullen
AudreyMullen

Thank you, Mr. Wingfield for a spot-on synopsis of everything happening & what #GApols need to do next. It should be required reading for every elected official in the state!

GMT1967
GMT1967

Given that at least initially this was one of the many ways Earl E could make money via government connections (although scrutiny around overhead expenses probably scared him enough to back off given how the final bill was written and how much people started poking), it is not surprising to see the Cobb delegation continue to push for expansion.  Kyle I enjoy how you framed the debate to pretend private citizens were choosing to donate money to fund this - they are simply choosing to suffer a little bit of cash flow timing in order to designate where some of their tax dollars go, as this is an 100% tax credit.  It is essentially a back door voucher system, which is fine but call it what it is and do not pretend otherwise, the only unique feature is that enough taxpayers have to volunteer to suffer the short term cash flow issue to essentially vote in favor of the voucher spending.  The problem is defining when the natural limit is reached where it won't work anymore.  Right now it works because it is small enough to avoid affecting education spending (not that they always fully fund the formulas, but that is another story).  And it works for the private schools because they still have the majority of their students paying full price, so the fact that the voucher amount is lower is okay.  But the math eventually would hit a wall, as at some point you would hit a capacity point where private schools would not want the students anymore (especially the less bright/less solid family situations) and/or could not afford to take them at the lower voucher payment levels (because they actually spend more per student than even the most inefficient public schools in most cases).  Ironically the best thing Democrats could do would be to allow one state to go full force with vouchers to see Republicans wrestle with the reality of trying to replace the current public school system with a market based system - it sounds good in principle but no matter how you slice it no one wants to deal with the lower income/less bright/less motivated kids that drive a lot (but certainly not all) of the inefficiency in the current public system.  Are there ways to tackle the tougher situations differently from the current public schools?  Yes and that is where Democrats fail because they want to protect the status quo....but do not kid yourself that those approaches (e.g. the KIPP mindset) would in the end be cheaper or as effective if everyone had to go there....

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Well Trumps Muslim ban did not hold up legally


A win for America and a loss for the fascists !!!!

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

Congratulations to Georgia's own Dr. Tom Price on being confirmed as Secretary of HHS!

Now, time to find each and every occurrence of "the Secretary shall determine" in the text of Obamacare, as a baby step in dismantling the un-American, economically retarded abomination of Obamacare.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@AndyManUSA#45

LOL, Face it, IReport - President Bannon and his toy poodle, Don Twit, lost this one bigly. Sad.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@AndyManUSA#45 Yeah


The dictator Assad is the go to guy on this.


What is it with you guys and all the love for Assad and Putin. Dictators who would have you shot if they could ?


Reagan is rolling over in his grave.

teacherandmom
teacherandmom

If the lid is opened on the scholarships, then it is only fair the private schools accepting these funds be held accountable for progress and growth.  Require them to administer EOCs and EOGs and give them a CCRPI score.


If we continue down this path, it is only fair the private schools be held to the same level of accountability.

Caius
Caius

President Trump is used to running an organization where he makes all the rules. He is still learning that the United States government is working with rules made 240 years ago. He cannot change them. Will he ever learn to work within the rules?  If not, he is going to be a miserable man for the next 4 years. 

Bottom line he must give up the idea that the Constitution is just another piece of toilet paper. He is not there yet.


Starik
Starik

@Caius Government is not about accumulating wealth; nothing in Trump's education or background has prepared him to govern.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Starik @Caius  His private sector business background does indeed qualify him. A background as community organizer and junior politician does not prepare one to govern as the country discovered the hard way. If someone doesn't now anything about accumulating wealth they know nothing about conserving it. We've learned that the hard way also.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@SGTGrit @Starik @Caius His private sector business background does indeed qualify him.


Sorry


We are finding out, some the hard way, that it doesnt.


Its been a trainwreck so far. And its going to get worse.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Hedley_Lammar @SGTGrit @Starik @Caius  Wrong again...Trump's first few days as the chief executive has been a success in the long road to disabling all the damage from the previous administration. The train wreck has been congressional democrats and the lower federal court system.

NewsFan58
NewsFan58

Just trying to understand... if it's a 100% credit, then doesn't that mean the person who donated the money actually isn't out anything, since the amount of state taxes they pay are reduced by that exact same amount? And therefore the State is actually the one funding the scholarships? If so, then why don't they just pay the tuition directly to begin with?  (Or did KW mean to say a tax "deduction" instead of a "credit"?)  Or maybe they fund the scholarships this way because the state doesn't want to contribute directly to private schools, some of which are religious, so they let the citizens donate?

The second to last paragraph talks about a match.  Does that just refer to the credit?  The state doesn't match an additional amount equivalent to the original donation, does it?  Also, is a donation to an SSO tax deductible on the Federal return? 

lvg
lvg

Love how Kyle is trying desperately to keep us from discussing the clown show unfolding  in the White House. How bad does it have to get for the Stupid Party to agree to  impeachment proceedings?

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

The America-hating and Trump Derangement Society are over at Jay's.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@lvg  Well they couldn't do it over the past eight years that Obama was in office.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@lvg

Kyle didn't write much about Trump's predecessor (Obama). He's more focused on government policy.

Far more informative than discussing a particular person.


breckenridge
breckenridge

Feb 9 - A federal appeals court panel has maintained the freeze on President Trump’s controversial immigration order, meaning previously barred refugees and citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries can continue entering the United States. 

In a unanimous, 29-page opinion, three judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that the suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons and forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power. 

The judges wrote that any suggestion that they couldn’t “runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”

It must be time for the loons to get on their soapboxes;


Those judges aren't even elected!


Legislating from the bench!

lvg
lvg

@breckenridge Yeah a judge legislates when he say head clown failed to present any evidence to justify the travel ban. That's like locking up someone for murder when they have an alibi and twenty witnesses who will testify the Defendant was on the other side o f  the country with no proof of being at the scene of the crime..


Judge legislates if  he sets the Defendant loose based on no evidence?

You Trumpsters will keep playing  your music as the  ship of state sinks below the water.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Trumpville—mighty Donald has struck out. Again.

Caius
Caius

@Lil_Barry_Bailout How about our Third, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights?

Like the government cannot deprive any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. Is that safe? After           tonight, yes it is safe!

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Does that mean Hillary is President now?

No?

OK, moving on then. With Our First and Second Amendment rights safe from the liberal fascists for the next four years.