Tax credit scholarship expansion introduced

The list just keeps on growing.

This past week alone – celebrated across the country as National School Choice Week – educational freedom broke through in a number of states:

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill creating education savings accounts, or ESAs. Families will be able to spend education funds, about $7,600 this year, on a variety of uses from private school tuition to tutoring and textbooks. Iowa lawmakers nearly passed an ESA bill last year, and Reynolds backed successful primary challengers for four Republicans who voted against it.

In Utah, lawmakers approved an ESA bill by large margins. Families will have up to $8,000 to spend on the educational purposes they choose, and public school teachers will receive pay increases. Gov. Spencer Cox, who had been hesitant to support such legislation in the past, signed the bill over the weekend.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster put $25 million in his budget for ESAs and called on legislators to pass legislation to create the accounts.

Here in Georgia, new legislation to expand educational freedom has also been proposed. But it may face a harder path to becoming law.

The bright spot so far is a bill by Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, to increase the cap of the tax credit scholarship program to $200 million from $120 million. Under this program, donors to qualified scholarship organizations receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their state tax liability.

“Earlier this month, Georgia taxpayers responded overwhelmingly by submitting requests for more than $150 million worth of tax credits on just the first day of the program, and the wait-lists for these student scholarships continues to grow across the state,” Carson said in announcing his new bill.

Approximately 7,000 additional children could receive scholarships if the entire $150 million in requested credits had been available. If Carson’s bid for $200 million were to pass, it would accommodate about 18,000 more children than the program serves today.

The new speaker, Jon Burns, noted Georgians’ “overwhelming demand for this innovative program year after year” and said the House was “committed to taking sensible steps to improve educational outcomes for Georgia’s children.”

Even in a year when the state enjoys a surplus of more than $6 billion, however, the fate of Carson’s bill is uncertain. Many other ideas are competing for those dollars, and these are of course one-time funds, whereas the higher cap would continue year after year.

But it’s important to note the program actually saves taxpayer dollars. In 2021, the most recent year for which data are available, scholarship recipients got an average of $4,292. Also in 2021, the state spent about $5,750 per public-school student – meaning that each student who left public schools to use one of these scholarships saved state taxpayers almost $1,500.

Most scholarship recipients come from families of modest means: More than one-third would qualify for free lunch at school, and more than 80% qualify for health insurance subsidies under Obamacare. So it’s reasonable to conclude the vast majority of these students wouldn’t be able to afford private school without the scholarships.

What’s more, public schools spend local and federal tax dollars in addition to state funds: a total of $11,268 per pupil in 2021. So the tax credit scholarship program educated 2.6 students for the same cost as a single public-school student. Maybe that’s why the scholarship program has been able to grow over time without crimping growth in public-school funding, teacher salaries or the state’s budget overall. 

But more important than fiscal impacts is the way these choices can change the life of a child who’s being bullied, needs a more challenging curriculum, or has some other specific need. Education options make these decisions a lot easier for parents. 

As other proposals arrive, Georgia lawmakers will have plenty of choices for expanding options. They should follow the lead of their colleagues around the nation, and do so.

The Babylon Bee’s Seth Dillon will be the keynote speaker for our upcoming Georgia Freedom Dinner on April 25. You don’t want to miss this! Get your tickets now.

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