House Bill 140 is an extension of the Tax Credit Scholarship Program that allows Georgians to take a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for a donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. The SSOs distribute the donations to eligible private schools as student scholarships.
The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, is awaiting a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee.
In a report released by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, senior policy analyst Claire Suggs wrote that the bill “would expand Georgia’s private school scholarship tax credit program from $50 million to $80 million, diverting an additional $30 million in potential state revenue from the general fund.”
The legislation comes on the heels of Floyd County Schools’ Reduction In Force plan to eliminate 119 employees, with the purpose of trimming $10 million from the school system’s budget — and money troubles in other public school systems.
Some Georgia residents are feeling steadily uneasy about choices being made at the capitol.
“The Floyd County school cuts are very upsetting, even to people concerned about Georgia public education living outside your area,” said Jeanette Knazek, research coordinator for EmpowerED Georgia. “And to know that private schools are, in essence, being given preference with planned increases of 60 percent and beyond, via the tax-credit scholarship program’s proposed 2013 legislation, is mind-boggling.”
EmpowerED Georgia is a group of parents, students and educators uniting in response to deep budget cuts in state education funding.
Knazek, who is from north Fulton County, said she regularly gathers information about what’s happening with the legislators on national, state and local levels. She said her personal opinion is that Georgia shouldn’t even have a tax credit scholarship for private schools.
“The fact that the Legislature has made a decision to allow people’s tax dollars to go to private education at a time when the legislature is not coming up to snuff for funding public education, I have a problem with that,” she said.
Knazek expressed frustration with what she sees as state lawmakers writing off public education. And she noted that the tax credit scholarship program won the Society of Professional Journalists’ “Black Hole” award in 2012, for the law’s failure to hold anyone accountable for how they spend the tax funds.
“The legislature decided to make it illegal to find out where that money is spent; there’s no transparency,” she said. “When you see these RIFs like what happened in Floyd County… I think there’s over 20 districts that are on the brinks of collapsing. But the legislature will fund private education at the tax payers’ expense. We are ignoring the many kids that could be doing more with that money.”
She emphasized that these issues should concern all taxpayers, not just those affiliated with schools.
“I’m not even a parent, but I believe public education is one of the main pillars of democracy, and to see that funding being pulled… I know part of it is the economy, but part of it is the decisions being made by those in power,” she said. “They’re shortchanging everybody. This is a bigger issue than just for those who have kids in schools. Taxpayers should care. This is a black hole. Awarding this “black-hole” program a 60 percent increase from $50 to $80 million a year —plus guaranteeing specified annual increases — is simply outrageous.”