Opinion: School-choice measure fails – where else? – in Georgia Senate

Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, attempted to attach an ESA measure to an education bill Friday. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

For the first time in several years, a standalone measure to expand school choice was considered on the floor of the Georgia Senate. It went down in flames, but the debate and vote on the bill is worth examining.

The measure was an amendment to House Bill 338, the latest initiative to address Georgia’s failing schools. The bill originally included a choice provision for students in those schools, but it was removed due to a lack of consensus. On Friday, senators faced an amendment to HB 338 that would have created an education savings account for about 4,000 students, with preference given to students in failing schools or who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The amendment failed, 14-38. Among Republicans, the vote was 14-22.

I’ve written before about the opinion polls showing a large majority of Republican voters in Georgia (and to a lesser extent, non-Republicans) favor school choice, including measures such as ESAs. So why did the amendment fail Friday?

Some senators objected to the ESA measure being attached to this particular bill: Sens. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said as much from the floor. But the obvious response is: If not now, when?

It’s worth recounting some history here. In 2010 and 2011, then-Majority Leader Chip Rogers, a staunch advocate of school choice, authored bills to expand the state’s special-needs scholarship program to include kids in foster or military families. Neither time was there enough support for Rogers even to bring the bill up for a vote; he didn’t have the votes.

It’s gotten worse since then. Other than the 2012 constitutional amendment to allow for state-chartered schools and a 2013 move to raise the cap on the tax-credit scholarship by $5 million (a bad move in hindsight, given that the trade-off was the removal of an automatic escalator for the cap), school-choice bills have gotten short shrift.

Sen. Hunter Hill, R-Atlanta, who offered Friday’s amendment, has filed an ESA bill each of the last three years. This year, he finally got a hearing for it in the Senate education committee. He still hasn’t gotten a vote on the bill (though there was disagreement on the floor between him and the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, as to whether he was offered a vote in committee). He did, however, change his proposal based on the feedback he got on this year’s bill: He capped enrollment at one-quarter of 1 percent of all public-school students (currently about 1.7 million — hence the “about 4,000” figure earlier) and added the preference for students based on means and being zoned for a failing school.

“I’m offering to you a pilot program on this concept,” Hill said. “Let’s see if this works. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be proven wrong … and we can get rid of the program.”

By “works,” Hill meant in part that the program would attract students from low-income families in particular. The usual doubts about the ability of such families to find private schools they could afford, even with an ESA worth the state’s portion of education funding, were raised. They’re the same doubts I shot down in a series of columns in 2015 — and I didn’t get to all of the quality, low-cost private schools I’ve heard about. Nor do the doubters take account of the fact private donations to the tax-credit scholarship program could supplement what low-income families get from ESAs.

Those families, and those observers curious to see if the program can work in Georgia as it already has in other states, will have to wait another year. I wonder: Will all those senators who said they support the idea, and merely objected to the “process” Hill used to get a floor vote for his bill, work to help his bill get through the committee and back to them for a vote next year?

I really, really have to wonder about that.

Reader Comments 0

18 comments
ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Kinda makes you wonder if school choice is a priority....but then again outside of metro Atlanta the school system is one of the largest employers in counties so I'm sure that you can understand there may be some resistance to upsetting the status quo in these Republican dominated counties. 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

" I really, really have to wonder about that."


No need to wonder. They will vote this down again. Complaining about the process was just an excuse.

gapeach101
gapeach101

"and I didn’t get to all of the quality, low-cost private schools I’ve heard about"

Please share this list with us Kyle.  

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

Wow, 12 comments. I think craft beer got a few more.

Libertylover
Libertylover

The danger of some school-choice plans is that they may inject government regulations into the participating private schools. If the government forces those schools to conform to the regulations that made parents want to escape the public schools in the first place, what kind of "choice" is that?

jhgm63
jhgm63

What's important is do they have access to the school of their choice?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Just so everybody understands, the final vote count for easing your health care burden and improving the health care system was Republicans 210, democrats/ freedom caucus ZERO.


By the way, part of the failed bill forced Congressional members off of their gold plated health care plans and into the same system they shoved down your throat. Maybe that's why they voted NO?

Resist Trump
Resist Trump

On the bright side, IReport, if you like your Obamacare, you can now keep your Obamacare (and you don't even have to thank President O). As your Speaker said, "Obamacare will be with us for the foreseeable future."

On the not so bright side, your führer suffered a massive, spectacularly embarrassing defeat, one that exposed him as a weak president and shockingly bad dealmaker. Which publishing house do you think will get the rights to "The Art of No Deal (and Getting Humiliated in the Process)"?

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@Resist Trump Your party passed a health care bill that no one wanted, by the skin on their teeth, and lost 75% of your legislative seats over the next 3 elections. If we are going to decide on how to be "humiliated," I would much rather do it the way President Trump did, versus what obama did to his political party.


The thing you do not understand, at all, during the campaign Trump pretty much said he was good with universal health care. He tried to do it the Republican way, oh well. Now, the likelihood of him getting a bi partisan health care bill passed has just increased tenfold. 


The republicans are the ones that put themselves in a bad spot yesterday. Trump just opened up a whole can of options.


P.S. I am an American, not a Republican.


You'll figure it out, eventually. 

Caius
Caius

@AndyManUSA#45 @Resist Trump I realize I am hours behind on this, but.........!


The US Consitution teaches that for a bill to pass congress it has to get a majority of votes in the two houses of congress. Someone forgot this or chose to ignore the warnings. That thing Trump/Ryan pulled was a joke at best.


Andy is correct in that Trump said he would be happy with a "everyone is covered" health care plan. Which means a deal with the Democrats and a handful of Republicans. They need to take a couple of years to write it. No rush.


Ever since the 2003 Part D Medicare drug plan we have been headed toward some sort of national health care plan. 


The magic word in "entitlements".




AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

Yes, another generation of children assigned to the ash heap while our politicians play it safe.

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

I believe those were Your politicians...

DeepStateDawg
DeepStateDawg

Jeez Kyle. It sounds like all they need to do is read more Kyle and then they'd see the light. 

Pub Heaven
Pub Heaven

Pubs performing for their peeps today...

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Parents of school aged children are not special citizens that get to decide what to do with all taxpayers' money for education. Don't know your situation Kyle, but I suspect you have school aged children due to your frequent  promoting of school choice, vouchers, tax credits,  and ESA's - not saying you are greedy, just saying that may be your season of life/interest right now.


Education is a public good paid for by, and serving all communities and taxpayers. It makes no sense to equate parenthood with the ability to make the best educational choice for all taxpayers. Many children are failing because of their parents' poor choices, yet you argue that parents are the only ones who should decide how to spend all taxpayer education money.


I am all for tax credits, rebates, vouchers, etc in the amount of ONLY the education taxes you pay if your child is in public school for at least one year and you then remove your child from public school.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@AvgGeorgian I have one child in school and another one who'll be there in the fall. They are/will be in a public school, and that won't change regardless of what happens with any bills like the one I described in this post. As for this:

"I am all for tax credits, rebates, vouchers, etc in the amount of ONLY the education taxes you pay if your child is in public school for at least one year and you then remove your child from public school."

First, the one-year-in-public-schools thing was in the amendment Hill offered. Second, I find it curious that you have* complained that school choice is for "the rich" -- and then suggest here that any credit, rebate, etc. should be in the amount a parent pays in education taxes. Wouldn't that be the best way to ensure it's a program for higher-income families, since they pay more in taxes? Wouldn't the concept I and others have proposed -- tying it to the amount of state funding per child -- be a far better way to make sure the program isn't skewed toward higher-income families?


*In the past, I'm fairly certain; if not, others certainly have.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Kyle_Wingfield @AvgGeorgian

I seek accountability to the taxpayer, utility, and fairness. If you want to remove your child from public school and spare taxpayers the cost of educating your child in return for a rebate of education taxes, then yes, some rich people will benefit disproportionately. I do think the one year in public school may hinder some of that.


I am not against private/charter schools. I am against taxpayers paying for such schools that do not have the same accessibility and accountability as real public schools. private schools and the state charter schools get to hide academic/financial data from the taxpayer-the same data that is used to condemn real public schools as "failing" or "wasteful".


You are usually fair and logical in your arguments but you seem to turn a blind eye to the accountability problem. If schools want public money, then post ALL data, just like real public schools.