The bill was controversial, passing the state House of Representatives by 91 votes, the bare minimum for a constitutional majority in the 180-member body. It was authored and carried by Republican House leaders and was adopted mostly along party lines. Democrats filed a dissenting report.
During the debate in the state House in March, opponents claimed it could cost the state treasury ― and public schools ― $200 million a year.
“No one knows the true price tag,” said Rep. Becky Evans, D-Atlanta.
Spencer Muzio holds her daughter Audrey and stands with her other children Cade, Jarrett and Peyton during the Children, Family, and School Choice Bill Signing Ceremony on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in Liberty Plaza at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Governor Kemp signed House Bill 128, Senate Bill 42, Senate Bill 47, Senate Bill 246, and House Bill 606 into law at the event. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Credit: Christina Matacotta
Credit: Christina Matacotta
Supporters said it would cost less. They noted that these students would take only the state portion of their local school’s funding. The average scholarship was $6,734 last school year. (Schools get about half their money from the state, and half from local property and sales tax revenue, with a sliver coming from the federal government.) They also asserted that only a small number of students who are ill-served by their neighborhood school would use the program.
“As good as public schools are, there are just some things that they fall short on,” Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, said during the House debate.
Kimberly Leftwich, a mother in Cobb County who sends two children to private school using the special needs tuition subsidy, said she struggled to get them identified as having a learning disability, in this case, dyslexia. She’s become a volunteer advocate for other families that suspect their children have dyslexia and cannot prove it has harmed them academically. They can get a 504 plan but not a special needs designation because, she said, “often times they don’t fail enough. ... There’s lots of kids that are falling through the cracks.”
Kemp signed the bill in Liberty Plaza across the street from the Capitol building. Parents brought children, including some in wheelchairs. They supported SB 47 and other legislation Kemp signed, such as Senate Bill 42. It makes neighborhood schools allow homeschooled students try out for the football team, the school musical or other extracurricular activities. In exchange, the students will have to take at least one course at the school.
Another bill Kemp signed also affects students at home. Senate Bill 246, dubbed the “learning pod protection act,” prohibits regulation of homes and other informal places where parents send their kids to work and play together, whether before or after school or to attend classes online.