By Kyle Wingfield
Being focused primarily on what happens in Georgia, it can be easy to miss important developments elsewhere. But when it comes to expanding educational options, other states keep rubbing it in my face.
Our General Assembly did pass some modest improvements to school-choice programs this year, expanding the Special Needs Scholarship to additional students and moving public charter schools closer to funding parity with other public schools. But the largest proposed expansion, a bill to create education scholarship accounts, advanced out of the House Education Committee but no further.
By comparison, consider this recent run-down of the action by other states this year in an op-ed by Paul E. Peterson in the Wall Street Journal:
“Montana lifted caps on charter schools. Arkansas now offers tax-credit scholarships to low-income students. West Virginia and Kentucky have funded savings accounts that help parents pay tuition at private schools. Florida, a movement leader, has enlarged its tax-credit scholarship programs. Even Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee promises to veto a moratorium on new charter schools. As one voucher activist told me: ‘This feels like the most school choice legislative action in … years.’”
Georgia didn’t miss out on this party completely, but neither did it do enough to make Peterson’s list.
We’re not alone in that, obviously. Advocates for educational options in other states sometimes fall short as well.
One of them, Nebraska state Sen. Justin Wayne, chided his colleagues this past week for opposing a bill to create a tax-credit scholarship program similar to the one Georgia has. The way he did so has drawn national attention.
“It’s just a profound thing that the only people who are opposing school choice today are the same people who have choice,” Wayne, an African-American Democrat, said during the floor debate on the bill. “And many of them exercise that choice. … But my community can’t wait any more.
“So here’s my offer, to all of the (senators) who have kids, here’s my offer: I will vote to kill this bill if you send your kids to one of the kids’ schools in my district that we’re waiting to turn around.”
Wayne, a former school-board member in Omaha who once opposed such measures, then called out some of his colleagues by name. “Everybody get on the mic, let’s make that promise, let’s transfer the kids, so as we spend six, seven years in elementary school changing a school, your kid (can) be a part of that change.
“And when they fall behind; when they don’t have the resources – allegedly; when they’re dealing with suspensions and things like that; then we can all go through it together. That’s what I mean by (saying) let’s have a real, honest conversation. Don’t make a choice that you won’t allow anybody else to make, just based off income. Because that’s what we’re talking about.”
That resonates in Georgia, where a number of school-choice opponents in the Legislature were all too happy to send their own children to private school. One member of the House Education Committee even acknowledged during the debate over the Special Needs Scholarship expansion that she sent her special-needs daughter to a private school because the public school wasn’t meeting her needs. Then she voted against the bill.
I’m not going to name her in this column because too many of her colleagues have done much the same thing without owning up to it publicly. At least she was transparent about it.
In Nebraska, Wayne’s challenge went unanswered. It also failed to move the bill, which fell four votes short of ending a filibuster.
Still, he argued powerfully that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. There are a lot of geese in Georgia taking advantage of the educational options their personal wealth affords them, and then working to deny those options to people without such wealth.
Maybe Georgia needs its own Justin Wayne to name them and shame them.
Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: www.georgiapolicy.