Mike Dudgeon, policy director for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, said at a recent political forum that his boss wants to continue to fight for Education Savings Accounts, which are essentially vouchers.

OPINION: Republicans may be back with bill creating school vouchers in Georgia

Education Savings Accounts failed twice, but new GOP leadership isn’t giving up

In the upcoming 2020 legislative session, Georgia's Republican leadership has signaled it may revive the voucher bill that met with defeat this year and last.

Mike Dudgeon, policy director for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, said at a recent political forum that his boss wants to continue to fight for Education Savings Accounts, which are vouchers rebranded. 

While Education Savings Accounts also allow Georgia parents to use tax dollars to pay for homeschooling materials, tutoring and education therapies, most of the money goes to private school tuition in the five states that already offer ESAs.

Dudgeon lamented the characterization of legislators in favor of Educational Savings Accounts as the "enemy of public education."

Pro-voucher lawmakers may not be enemies of public education, but they're not friends -- at least not the supportive kind you can count on when the oven explodes, the basement floods or the cat gets stuck in a tree.

And that pretty much describes the status of many school districts in Georgia, especially rural ones. With nearly a half million rural students, Georgia is only surpassed in rural enrollment by two states, Texas and North Carolina.

 A recent report by the Rural School and Community Trust concludes Georgia is not doing well by those rural kids.

Describing Georgia's rural districts as diverse and poor, the report says: 

Schools and districts are large across the state, and instructional spending for each rural student is well below the U.S. average. Student achievement in rural areas is low, well below the performance in non-rural areas, and the state’s achievement gap for rural students in poverty ranks Georgia among the 10 highest-priority states on that measure. More than any other gauge, it’s the dire college-readiness results that make Georgia the seventh most serious situation for rural education in the U.S.

The Rural School and Community Trust study compared instructional expenditures per pupil in rural school districts and found Georgia spent $5,681 per student, which is below the national average of $6,367.

Does it make sense for Georgia to fund an auxiliary education system when it already shortchanges so many kids in its existing public schools?

The state has been promising to revise its funding formula for two decades, but seven blue-ribbon commissions have tried and failed to figure out the right price tag for a quality education. Or, they came up with one, but it was more than Georgia was willing to invest.

Lawmakers often contend it's costs that prevent kids from leaving their local public schools; it's also availability of options in rural regions where there are too few students to sustain a private school or even a public charter school. National Center for Education Statistics data show private schools are far more common in suburbs and cities than rural areas.

Another attempt at vouchers in the General Assembly could meet resistance from Democrats and from some rural Republicans skeptical of the benefits of a costly voucher program in communities without private school options.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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