“This is an opportunity for us to give students that are trapped in school systems that are underperforming an opportunity to move forward,” Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said while presenting his bill on the Senate floor.
He introduced it despite House Speaker David Ralston’s announcement last month that he was blocking two similar House voucher bills. The Blue Ridge Republican was angered by a national voucher advocacy group that bombarded conservative voters with political mailers likening Republicans to liberals if they didn’t support the measures.
Republicans in the Senate also had concerns about the vouchers on Tuesday.
Sen. Matt Brass, a Republican from Newnan, concurred with Democrats who said the $6,000 tuition subsidy exceeded the amount that public schools in some areas get from the state. Brass offered an amendment to make the voucher equivalent to what schools in the student’s area and grade level receive. It passed, but the bill still failed even with that change. Brass voted for it, but eight of his fellow Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats against it.
Democrats faulted the bill, saying few poor students could afford the difference between the subsidy amount and the cost of private school tuition. They also criticized the committee hearing process, where it passed without the usual public comment.
No testimony from the public was taken at last week’s Senate Education and Youth Committee hearing, but teachers and other public school advocates have opposed such measures in the past, saying they drain money away from public schools.
“I think this bill has just not been appropriately vetted for such a monumental change. Doesn’t do anything for the kids in rural Georgia,” said Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.
This wasn’t the first Senate rejection of private school subsidies in this legislative session. On Friday, the Senate disagreed to House changes in early March to House Bill 517, which would double the maximum size of the state’s tax credit private school scholarship program to $200 million.