Renewed push to expand Georgia’s private school tuition subsidies

A legislative pitch for a major expansion of tuition subsidies for private K-12 schools is back under the Georgia Gold Dome again after faltering last year.

Republican lawmakers proposed a $100 million increase of Georgia’s student scholarship program during the 2022 legislative session, but they only secured an increase of $20 million.

ExploreGeorgia House votes to expand subsidies for private school tuition

The chief author of that scaled-back legislation, state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, is proposing to expand the cap on the tax credit funded program from the current $120 million to $200 million next year.

House Bill 54, filed Monday, has more than two dozen co-sponsors, mostly Republicans but at least one Democrat.

Christy Riggins, director of the Georgia chapter of the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation for Children, said by emailed statement that her group backs HB 54 because it trusts parents to choose the best school for their children, whether for rigor, a particular strength, a special need “or simply to escape a failing or unsafe public school.”

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once chaired the national group, which was founded by her billionaire family. It lobbies and advocates for school “choice,” often in the form of public funding for private education via what is known as “vouchers.”

The group made an enemy of then-House Speaker David Ralston last year when it financed political mailers targeting Republican lawmakers in an effort to secure support for voucher legislation. Ralston called it the “dumbest” and among “the most deceitful” things he’d seen in his career, and vowed to block their legislation, which failed to pass.

But Ralston died late last year, and his successor, Republican Jon Burns from Newington in South Georgia, said at a press briefing last week that he was looking forward to a “robust” discussion about vouchers this legislative session.

Associations for teachers and other educators have generally opposed the tax credit scholarships, likening them to vouchers. But vouchers are direct government payments to private schools, while the program Carson wants to expand draws funds from taxpayers directly — in the form of money that they otherwise would have owed the state.

Taxpayers who give money toward these scholarships get a like amount credited against their tax bill. They can contribute up to certain maximums determined by their taxpayer category, but the credits run out when the total program cap is met.