Georgia already has a private school scholarship program, but it is funded by tax credits rather than by direct state payments. There’s also a small direct-payment scholarship program, but it is only for students with learning disabilities.
There's been no financial analysis of the Senate version, but House Bill 301 would require about $48 million in the first year, rising to a maximum of about $543 million in a decade as more students participate.
There would be a cap on the number of accounts. Under the House plan, an estimated 8,700 students would be eligible in year one (2019-20), with that number increasing annually until the cap is reached.
Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, a floor leader for Gov. Brian Kemp, was the second signer on House Bill 301, which would direct some public money to private school tuition. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Proponents say it won’t cost the state anything because the money is already allocated for education and is merely following the students from public schools to private.
"So the program is revenue neutral as far as the state is concerned because it's money we're already spending on these students," said Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, the lead sponsor of the Senate version.
Public education advocates said the loss of state funding would hurt local schools, though. The Professional Association of Georgia Educators, with more than 90,000 members, has a long-standing objection to “using public dollars for private school vouchers, so that part of the bill does give us pause,” the group’s legislative affairs director, Margaret Ciccarelli, said at a hearing Thursday.
The second signer on the House version is Rep. Jodi Lott, R-Evans, a floor leader for Gov. Brian Kemp, whose office hasn't responded to calls and emails. Another Kemp floor leader, Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, is the second signer on the Senate bill.
“I signed on behalf of the governor,” he said in an interview Thursday. “My signature on it is a message that the governor supports it.”