Georgia voucher legislation would pay $6,000 toward K-12 tuition

The teacher lobby had anti-school-voucher props placed on every lawmaker's desk before legislation came up for a vote. Vouchers are back in 2022 in the form of House Bill 999, which passed a House subcommittee Tuesday, Feb. 1.   (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

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The teacher lobby had anti-school-voucher props placed on every lawmaker's desk before legislation came up for a vote. Vouchers are back in 2022 in the form of House Bill 999, which passed a House subcommittee Tuesday, Feb. 1. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)

Two private school voucher bills got early nods under Georgia’s Gold Dome Tuesday.

House Bill 60 and House Bill 999 would both give public school students a state subsidy of about $6,000 a year to help cover tuition if they move to a private school. Or the money could be used to help pay for tutors and other education-related expenses if they switch to home schooling.

The lead sponsor for both is Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, who used recent outrage over critical race theory, controversial books and school pandemic policies — online school, masks — to make his case.

“I submit to you today that if parents had a choice, that all of these issues would take care of themselves,” he said, “because schools would have to be more responsive to parents if they knew the parents could go to something else.”

HB 60 passed the House Education Committee, and HB 999 passed a subcommittee of that same committee.

Voucher supporters say these bills would leave public schools with more money per pupil, since the students who depart for private schools would only take state funding, leaving behind their share of local and federal dollars. They say the free market would ensure quality, since parents could choose to leave a poorly performing private school.

Opponents say vouchers divert funding from underfunded public schools. They say private schools lack accountability in the form of state testing or teacher certification. And they say low-income households are less likely to take advantage of vouchers since they are less able than the wealthy to cover the gap between the state subsidy and full tuition.

“This is an illusion of choice,” said Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, a former Atlanta school board member now with the Public Education Matters Action Fund.