Opinion: About Georgia’s tax-credit scholarships being only for the ‘rich’

The reactions to yesterday’s post about Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program reminded me that opponents of school-choice programs will invariably start talking about recipients’ incomes — specifically, their belief only “rich” or “privileged” people benefit from them. I knew that from past experience, but I thought we might be able to have one discussion without the issue coming up. So much for that.

Students and parents attend the 2016 school choice rally outside the Georgia Capitol. (AJC Photo / Taylor Carpenter)

Students and parents attend the 2016 school choice rally outside the Georgia Capitol. (AJC Photo / Taylor Carpenter)

What’s … odd … about this argument is the people who tend to make it never seem to want to deal in actual dollar amounts. That’s … curious … since that information is publicly available. Instead, they only want to characterize the incomes of the scholarship recipients: “rich,” or “privileged,” or maybe “upper-middle class.” Sometimes they simply rely on technical terms such as “highest income quartile.” But why not put some dollar signs on those characterizations? We have them, after all.

Here’s the answer: The actual dollar signs that go with those terms don’t lend themselves quite as well to demagoguery.

So I thought I’d describe in as much detail as possible the dollar figures attached to tax-credit scholarship recipients. All of the figures which follow are drawn from two reports produced by the state Revenue Department for the 2015 calendar year, the most recent data available. If you want to try to demagogue these facts, good luck.

1. The largest single group of recipient families (4,012 out of 12,422, or 32.3 percent) had incomes between $31,015 and $65,818. This is the third income quartile — or, as some people might call it, the “upper-middle class.” With 2.74 dependents on average in these families, we could expect most of them to have between three and five members. Whether at the top or the bottom of that income range, most families of those sizes could expect to receive health-insurance subsidies via Obamacareup to $10,500 per year. Some of the families on the lower end would even qualify for Medicaid, if Georgia were to expand it. The funny thing about that: Some of the same people who support giving these families subsidies for health care oppose giving them families tax-credit scholarships, which average about $3,500 a year, because as everyone knows only “rich” families get those scholarships.

2. The second-largest group of recipient families (3,220 out of 12,422, or 25.9 percent) had even lower incomes: between $14,035 and $31,015. This is the second income quartile. The families at the bottom end of this income scale don’t qualify for Obamacare subsidies — because their incomes, at less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, are too low. (Obamacare was written with the assumption Medicaid would cover these families.) So the second-largest group of tax-credit scholarship recipients are people whose health care is either subsidized to the tune of thousands of dollars per year, or not subsidized at all because Georgia didn’t expand Medicaid. It is worth noting, though, that many of the children in these families would qualify for the children’s version of Medicaid in Georgia, PeachCare. And yet, scholarship program opponents would deny them money for a private education.

3. Next comes the “top quartile.” The big-time earners. Families who make … wait for it … at least $65,819 per year. (This includes 2,861 out of 12,422 families, or 23 percent.) To qualify for this prestigious group, a family need only earn about 30 percent more than the median household income in Georgia. An experienced public-school teacher in Georgia can earn that much in a year. I don’t recall opponents of tax-credit scholarships calling teachers “rich.” But if they earn enough to fit in the top quartile, it must be so … right? Regarding Obamacare subsidies, it’s worth noting a family of five (the average number of dependents for scholarship recipients in this quartile is 2.74) can earn $81,900 and get as much in health-insurance subsidies ($3,510) as the average tax-credit scholarship is worth ($3,509). That family of five would have to earn more than $114,000 not to qualify for any Obamacare subsidies at all. But remember: They’re in the top quartile, so they must all be “rich”!

4. Finally, we come to the bottom quartile (2,329 out of 12,422, or 18.7 percent), which had incomes below $14,035. It should go without saying the children in these families would qualify for PeachCare. It’s also worth noting there are nearly as many recipient families in this income quartile as in the top one (2,329 vs. 2,861). I’m not sure how that could possibly be, since everyone knows only “rich” people get these scholarships!

***

What should be clear from all this is the standard line from scholarship opponents about this program being nothing but a sop to the “rich” is utterly bogus. I doubt that will stop them from making the claim, but they’ll have to resort to some alternative facts to do so.

Reader Comments 0

108 comments
ByteMe
ByteMe

Kyle, I looked at the two reports and they don't say what you claim they say.  They show "number of recipients" per quartile, not how much each quartile of recipients received.


So let's say I give $1000 to students whose parents are poor and $30,000 to my own kids through these scholarships... that wouldn't exactly show up in those reports.  Wonder why it doesn't?


And why are my tax dollars -- and the way this is structured, the program does indeed take our tax dollars away from other things for this program -- going to private for-profit schools while public school funding is considered "a problem"?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@ByteMe I didn't see this until I came back to the post to link to it for a newer one. But ...

First, you can't give money to your own kids. The law prohibits that. And your $30,000 example is further wrong-headed, since only a C-corp can give more than $10,000 in a year. (The limits are: $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 for a couple, $10,000 for an S-corp.; OCGA 48-7-29.16.)

Second, a bill this year would have required reporting of scholarship amounts by quartile, but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle killed it for unrelated reasons: http://kylewingfield.blog.myajc.com/2017/04/03/opinion-who-brought-the-2017-session-to-its-disappointing-end/

Third, as I've explained before, this doesn't "take our tax dollars away from other things" unless you buy the notion that every dollar is the state's property unless it mercifully lets the earner keep it. (The "our" in your sentence is rather revealing as well. It's not "our" money. It's the earner's money. The state never taxed it.) This is no different from saying that not taxing incomes above 6% is the same as "taking tax dollars away from other things."

Finally, public school funding is only "considered 'a problem'" by some people. The rest of us are more swayed by the lack of evidence that additional funding would produce better results. The system itself seems to be a bigger problem.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

The un-American Americans are on their collective way out in America. The Whining and gnashing of teeth will be heard for awhile into a diminishing whimper as they pass like bad gas from the bowels of America. Their putrid smell won't linger much longer.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

The confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the SCOTUS, which is a certainty, will result in a tectonic shift in the direction of US governance for many years to come. Ninth Circuit etal shenanigans will become almost irrelevant.

A return to sanity will be a welcome change, however we need to be on guard against the overreach that the party in charge always seems unable to resist, the Patriot Act from Bush and his rubberstamp Congress and the ACA from his successor for example.

Caius
Caius

@stogiefogey I disagree. Gorsuch replaces Scalia's body, but not Scalia the intellectual leader of a conservative bloc of the Court, Scalia, Thomas, Alito.

Gorsuch believes that the results of the legislature should not be lightly overturned, see CJ Roberts.  As he puts it the Constitution forces a bicameral decision in law making. And that forced decision by the legislature should not be discarded lightly.

Unlike Scalia, Gorsuch is not a believer in legislating from the bench.

As the years go by it will evolve into Roberts, Kennedy Gorsuch instead of Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch.


That "tectonic shift" you seem to desire will come on the next new justice.


stogiefogey
stogiefogey

@Caius @stogiefogey  Yes there will no doubt be additional "shifting" in the next 4/8 years inasmuch as some of the sitting justices are a bit long in the tooth.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

So how do we impeach Congress?


Does anyone have any doubt that if hillary had been elected and had the exact same balance in Congress that Trump has, that her agenda would be sailing through, like obama's did? We'd have tax hikes made into law already and obamacare would have been expanded to cover all the people of South America. All existing southern border walls would have been torn down by now. 


All that Trump is trying to get passed is the same things these spineless Republicans campaigned on. I must be missing something. What could possibly be the problem? Did soros fill your bank accounts back up?


Do tell us.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Trump’s Immigration Raids Have Arrived in New York City, Advocates Report

Soon enough, there won't be anyone left on obamacare, they will have all been deported, and we can just repeal it, like it never happened. But will the Republican Congress have the courage?

breckenridge
breckenridge

Suppose one of those Syrian immigrants were to pick up a gun and shoot 4 or 5 people. Oh my but the foaming at the mouth crew would be up in arms!


Of course there have already been 38 mass shootings (4 or more victims) in America so far this year.  But for some reason you just haven't heard much about those incidents. Why? No Muslim involvement.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@breckenridge That's real funny, crackpot, considering President Trump is the only one calling out the "carnage" and putting chicago's mayor on notice.


Your kind seems to be fine with it.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@AndyManUSA#45 @breckenridge 

You missed the point entirely doof.


Americans killing Americans? Not a problem for the radical extremist right.  But anytime a Muslim is involved.........

blinky40
blinky40

Dirty pool, Kyle. By bringing in ACA income brackets you bias readers responses. ACA has nothing to do with scholarships. Neither does Medicaid. 

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Define your own brackets and show us the data.

Thanks in advance.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

I think anyone caught participating, financing or inciting violent protests should be charged and prosecuted for a felony punishable by a mandatory ten year prison sentence without parole. George Soros should be arrested immediately for funding such protests as should certain congressional Democrats for encouraging participation in protests that have been turning violent.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton for accepting the results of the election, like adults would, while the rest of their political party stages a giant thumbing sucking blue faced fit of non stop diaper filling. 

Starik
Starik

@jhgm63 Good article, which raises a lot of difficult questions. If you have a small school district it will have fewer resources. To secure more resources, consolidate. If transportation is a problem, board some kids.

Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

School choice obviously only works where there are, you know, choices.

Your search for a one-size-fits-all solution will have to continue.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

We give our max amount to bright futures academy - in one of the worst areas of atlanta (vine city). Our kids all went to public school.

But don't let the facts get in they way of the dem/liberal mantra that "choice will destroy public schools"....

I'm sure it's all about the children, though.....

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

The report Kyle is using does not explain how much $$$ went to each family or student in each quartile. Under this report, poor families could have gotten more scholarships but fewer dollars than the wealthy. The report goes out of its way to keep from reporting the most meaningful data and it seems to have worked on many of you.


It also reports no state test scores, no academic rating for the schools, and does not show that scholarship students performed better or worse after getting the scholarship. It also does not show how many scholarship students have never attended a public school.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Kyle good article, thanks for attaching some actual $ numbers to the "rich" scholarship recipients. Unfortunately you're right, the facts won't make much difference to the left.

And let's not forget that these rich people aren't paying their "fair share" of taxes either.

breckenridge
breckenridge

The anti-immigration protesters were out in force yesterday in California. Despite the fact that the were exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to assemble and protest, it is quite likely that some numbskull will come along and say those California people aren't real Americans anyway.  But of course they're real Americans.  They're just as American as the low IQ racist rural white trash ancestors of those that the great William Tecumseh Sherman had to open a huge can of whup-arse upon.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@breckenridge  Geez, do you actually read the stupidity you post? You sound like some lonely ignored teenager in a dark room desperately trying to cover up for low self esteem through the internet.

breckenridge
breckenridge

@SGTGrit @breckenridge 

No, I just call the dim bulb southern white trash riding around in their beat-up pickup trucks with their two teeth and their full size confederate flags mounted in the back of their trucks what they truly are.

Did I hit a little too close to home for your taste? Too damn bad.

Caroline1815
Caroline1815

You, like all other Republicans, are so disingenuous.  The problem is not whether those getting scholarships deserve them or whether their families qualify in financial terms.  That's not it at all!  What it's really about is that these "tax credits" given to donors to rich private schools' scholarship funds are bleeding money from the public schools.  And of course that's the point.  That's what the Republicans want to do.  They want to destroy the public school system.  These rich private schools can very well afford to give scholarships to deserving students on their own.  But wow, these donations sure do pump up their coffers - pretty cool!  Instead, there should be "tax credits" given to donors who give to public schools.  That would do the most for the most students in the most fair and most efficient way.  For you and other Republicans to pretend that you "care" about the poor or middle income students is a big lie.  Don't think people don't see through it. 

bu22
bu22

@Caroline1815 Of course they don't "bleed" money from public schools.  Public schools get money based on the students attending them.  And the tax credits are less than the funding public schools get.  So if someone switches to a private school, public schools come out ahead as they lose less than it cost to educate that student.

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

Ct. o f  Appeals said this President's use of Executive Power for National Security is a bunch of empty unfounded BS and that state has a right to protect its citizens and corporations from unconstitutional fascist edicts by a declared bigot out to harass Muslims.


Frightening that Orange clown's  fascism has been challenged now by the Judiciary and Trump's response---F-k You to the Judges. Truly frightening.


New fascist edict coming from Orange Clown on immigration. 


Kyle and GOP leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand as Fascism challenges our democracy.

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Yeah. It's a shame the administration was too incompetent to issue a Constitutional order initially. If anything happens, it is due to their incompetence.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

Thank you for actually doing work.  This is good journalism.  I still hve questions about whether grades actually improve, but at least we know its not rich people getting a tax break.  

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@JFMcNamara

You have been duped by this "report". Read closely as if it's your personal money being spent. What important data is missing to help you make sense of it?

Where is the data that shows that the private school tax credit program does not:


1. Funnel most of the money to the rich

2. Supports failing schools

3. Makes students perform worse on state tests that before they got the scholarship

4. Allows wealthy students to get scholarships paid for by their parents tax credits

breckenridge
breckenridge

Trump says he's going to come up with a different version of his immigration ban.  Of course a new law that does not kick out all Saudis, and ban all Saudis from entering America, is nothing more than whistling in the wind.



Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

How many of the Islamofascists who've carried out recent attacks, rapes, assaults, etc across Europe are Saudi?

breckenridge
breckenridge

@Lil_Barry_Bailout 

1. Osama bin Laden was Saudi.

2. 15 of the 19 terrorists that carried out the 9-11 attacks were Saudi.

3. The CIA estimates that between 13,000 and 21,000 Saudis have joined ISIS. At least half of the ISIS total manpower is Saudi.

4. No individual from any country covered in the Trump ban has ever carried out a terror attack in America.


Now run along and try to sell your pathetic punk defense of the Saudis elsewhere.

Dumporangebuffoon
Dumporangebuffoon

@breckenridge @Lil_Barry_Bailout Not one terrorist/alien  from the seven banned country ever attacked anyone in the US


How many from the Gulf states and Saudi A. attacked the US


Oh I forgot those countries have Trump hotels. Not a security risk


Trumpsters are enemies of the country and support a traitor who has sold out to Russia and terrorist countries.

JFMcNamara
JFMcNamara

@bu22 @breckenridge @Lil_Barry_Bailout he is right and you are wrong bu22.  They did not carry out terrorist attacks.


Only 17 entered the country as refugees, so that is a lot lower than 72 or 60.


Also, they did not actually carry out an attack, so that means the ban wouldn't matter.  Law enforcement did their job, which is how it is supposed to work. 



Also, some of these charges are dubious...

"Some opponents of the travel suspension have tried to claim that the Senate report was flawed because it included individuals who were not necessarily terrorists because they were convicted of crimes such as identity fraud and false statements. About a dozen individuals in the group from the seven terror-associated countries are in this category. Some are individuals who were arrested and convicted in the months following 9/11 for involvement in a fraudulent hazardous materials and commercial driver's license scheme that was extremely worrisome to law enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies, although a direct link to the 9/11 plot was never claimed."

jhgm63
jhgm63

Well, if you are going to have scholarships for students, why not provide a similar mechanism for funding teachers and/or schools to allow them to purchase classroom supplies. As the new Secretary of Education found out, teachers generally have to purchase their own supplies (hopefully she was aware of this before tweeting it out).

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Where is the data that shows that the private school tax credit program does not:


1. Funnel most of the money to the rich

2. Supports failing schools

3. Makes students perform worse on state tests that before they got the scholarship

4. Allows wealthy students to get scholarships paid for by their parents tax credits


Lil_Barry_Bailout
Lil_Barry_Bailout

Damn, son, did you not read the post?

Or are you determined to remain ignorant?

bu22
bu22

@Lil_Barry_Bailout Kind of those who keep insisting that people from the 7 countries haven't attacked the US despite reports that 60-80 have been convicted.  And as if the past was all that was relevant to current threats.