Republicans’ unearned victory lap on school choice

Those who even casually follow Georgia politics know that the 2023 legislative session was a contentious and tumultuous one for education policy. Specifically, Senate Bill 233 (“The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act”) drew impassioned arguments and divided House Republicans, even after passing the Senate with every Republican voting yes.

SB 233 was hailed by supporters as an important step toward school choice, providing Georgia’s parents and students with more options and greater purchasing power. The bill was voted down in the House, as 16 Republicans voted against it before it was ultimately reconsidered to preserve its chances for passage in 2024.

This makes a tweet, er, whatever those are called these days, by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) claiming that “Georgia Republicans have made school choice a top priority!” rather bizarre.

The statement is doubly strange because of SB 233’s high-profile nature – and because the successes the RSLC touted don’t really have much to do with school choice.

The Promise Scholarship and similar expansions of school choice are primarily, although not exclusively, GOP-led efforts. (Just one Georgia Democrat voted for SB 233, and she switched parties in July.) Republican lawmakers breaking with Republican Gov. Brian Kemp to kill a Republican-sponsored bill is hardly a demonstration of where Republican priorities lie.

So what, according to the RSLC, did Republicans “deliver” this past session? Lawmakers voted on a state budget that provides a $2,000 pay raise for teachers, sets aside $13.1 billion for K-12 schools and ensures the HOPE Scholarship will provide 100% in tuition.

The merits of these actions aside, they have virtually nothing to do with school choice.

The RSCL does know about actual school-choice measures, as evidenced by several other posts in the past week highlighting efforts in other states. These include the Utah Fits All Scholarship, the Arkansas Learns Act and the Oklahoma Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, bills in other states that provided universal or near universal education choice for families this year. Florida’s expansion of its private school voucher program was also highlighted.

The GOP obviously wants to claim victory where it can, and it has plenty of successes in education policy to choose from throughout the country. Perhaps if the post about Georgia had only generally mentioned “education” as the “top priority” in question,” it would have more of a leg to stand on. It is simply impossible to ignore the massive elephant in the room – or rather, 16 elephants – where Georgia is concerned.

The Georgia GOP has many consistent advocates for school choice, but it has demonstrated that it is not united on the issue. Calling it a “top priority” right now looks like a victory lap on the education front that has not yet been earned.

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