Georgia’s School Choice Program Draws Legal Challenge

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The Institute for Justice is planning to intervene in the lawsuit, representing parents.

May 7, 2014

Georgia Charter Schools Association/FacebookRobin Lamp calls herself "more than just a PTO parent." She made a point to be involved in her daughters’ education, learning about the curriculum and working behind the scenes. 

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Changes to the math program caused her daughter Haley, then in middle school, to struggle. "I had to get tutors, and we were barely keeping our heads above water. I had many conferences with math teachers," Lamp said.

Lamp is a single mom working four or five jobs a year, some of them seasonal, to support herself and her two daughters. She doesn’t use any government support, she said.

"I take their education very, very seriously. My view of it is, it is my responsibility to educate my children, and I use all the resources available to me—public school systems, whatever," she said. "I didn’t know that I had a choice. I didn’t know I could do anything other than homeschool her."

She learned about Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program through a friend. She couldn’t afford private school tuition on her earnings, but the program helped offset that cost.

"I asked her, 'Are you willing to leave your public school and friends and go here?'"

Haley was preparing for ninth grade. She will graduate this spring in the top 15 of her class and plans to study nursing at Clayton State College, where she’s been accepted.

"They have changed my daughter’s life, and how can I ever say thank you for that?" Lamp said. "I can’t. That’s giving her life support when she was dying academically. I am just so thankful."

Lamp’s younger daughter, Hannah, is attending the same private school on scholarship.

Others in Georgia don’t see the program in the same light. The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) for years has pushed for changes to the program, said Katherine Dunn, program officer. The foundation recently helped a group of plaintiffs file a lawsuit, hoping to have the program declared unconstitutional.

"While we work to improve the program, it’s sort of at the point where we think it’s time to initiate litigation," Dunn said.

Dunn said SEF would like to see increased testing in private schools and tighter regulations on curriculum and teacher qualifications. Testing would be one way to measure scholarship students’ progress, she said. "We’d like the schools to be held accountable for providing better education than the public schools do for these students," she said.

Scholarship-granting nonprofits need more accountability, too, she said. "There are constitutional issues with how the program is set up—tax credits versus tax deductions, and organizations being private that distribute these monies," she said.

SEF is not opposed in principle to school choice, she said, but before the state implements a school-choice program, traditional public schools should be funded at higher levels, and these measures for the tax-credit scholarship should be in place, she said.

Scholarship money does not come directly out of the education budget, but the tax credits result in Georgians paying less money in taxes overall, which indirectly cuts into the public education budget, she said.

Mary C. Tillotson writes for Watchdog.org.

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  • Christophe|5.7.14 @ 4:49PM|#

    "SEF is not opposed in principle to school choice, she said, but before the state implements a school-choice program, traditional public schools should be funded at higher levels, and these measures for the tax-credit scholarship should be in place, she said."

    In other words, extortion.

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  • Cytotoxic|5.7.14 @ 6:00PM|#

    SEF is being clever in trying to sandbag and smother the school choice not oppose it outright like teachers unions do. In this case, choice opponents have shifted tactics. I guess the earlier ones failed, which is a good sign.

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  • Sevo|5.7.14 @ 6:28PM|#

    The IJ does REALLY nice work; well thought out, well executed. I certainly wish them well in this case.

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