Georgia 2020: Educational Choice for All K-12 Georgia Students

By Ben Scafidi

Georgia could have a system of universal educational choice beginning in the fall of 2020, enabling families to choose the schools and non-school education services they deem best for their children and enabling educators to offer their best versions of school and other educational services to the public.

The system is outlined in my new study, “Georgia 2020: Educational Choice for All K-12 Students,” unveiled on January 23 to coincide with National School Choice Week. I base the recommendations on logic, experience and the systemic evidence from Arizona, the state with the most educational choice in the nation. Georgia 2020 would

  • provide students annually with $5,000 universal education savings accounts (ESAs)
  • increase to $150 million the cap on donations to the tax credit scholarship program
  • offer ESAs to homeschool students
  • add these ESAs to Georgia’s special needs scholarship program
  • equalize student funding between traditional public and charter public schools
  • increase the funding for cyber charter school students, and
  • restore autonomy over testing and standards to the local level by allowing local school boards to opt out of state-mandated standards and high-stakes testing. Instead, all students, regardless of their school sector, would take annual norm-referenced testing beginning in the third grade in Reading and Math, where these tests are not high-pressure or high-stakes, for students or for educators and schools.

By my count there are 13 different policy actors, either elected officials or government agencies, that govern public school classrooms. When parents ask for specific accommodations for their children – whether large or small – it is often difficult for public school employees to make changes to help these children, even when they agree with the parents.

Universal choice across education sectors for families, coupled with permissionless entry for educators, would allow for a “free” and universal system of K-12 education, analogous to the free systems for many goods and services that have enriched humanity.

Under Georgia 2020, families will endeavor to choose the best educational services for their children – be they traditional public schools, charter public schools, virtual schools, hybrid schools, career academies, micro schools, private schools or non-school education service providers. And, given the nature of Education Savings Accounts, unspent funds could be used for other children, saved for future years or saved to offset college tuition.

In such a system, it is unnecessary for higher levels of government to regulate traditional public schools. Teachers have been shouting from the mountaintops for almost two decades that undue focus on high-stakes standardized testing narrows what is taught; increases stress on students; gives educators an incentive to cheat on student tests; limits recess, physical education, field trips and other out-of-class and untested assignments, and more.

Universal educational choice is the way to free traditional public schools from these policies. Schools will be held accountable one way or the other, either by high-stakes standardized tests or by parents and educators exercising choice.

The current K-12 public education system has experienced hefty annual increases in state taxpayer funding recently, and the choice proposals contained in this study require increases in state taxpayer funds as well. Then again, local taxpayers would experience significant fiscal savings when special-needs students and other students opt for other education sectors.

Over time, as history has demonstrated, state policymakers are going to significantly increase state taxpayer funds for K-12 education. By 2020, state lawmakers will have increased state taxpayer funds to Georgia public schools by about $2 billion annually since the Great Recession ended.

State policymakers have to make a choice. Do they believe the best investment of those funds is to put almost all of it into traditional public schools? Or do they believe that allowing parents to redirect some of those funds to start-up charter schools, private schools, and other educational settings are the best use of those funds?

The results in Arizona, coupled with the early returns on school choice programs from around the nation, suggests a choice system would be the better investment for Georgia.   

Access the study by Dr. Ben Scafidi here.

Benjamin Scafidi is a professor of Economics, director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University and a Senior Fellow at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 26, 2018). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.