Georgia lawmakers disagree on tax credits for private school scholarships

Georgia lawmakers disagreed Thursday on changes to the state’s tax credits for student scholarships program, and the clock ran out on the legislation.

A bill originating in the House of  Representatives would have gradually raised the annual cap to $100 million from the present $58 million, but the Senate reduced that to $65 million before Thursday.

Then, on Thursday, the House voted to send it back to the Senate with a higher cap, albeit not what was originally proposed. Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the chief sponsor of House Bill 217, got the House to set the cap at $65 million initially, rising with annual increases to $85 million after.

The Senate rejected the change, sending it back near midnight and the end of the legislative session. There was no time to come to an agreement before the session ended, and the bill died.

Non-profit Student Scholarship Organizations steer credits from taxpayers to specific schools and students in the form of scholarships. They can keep as fees up to 10 percent of the credits they collect. The Senate voted to reduce the fees to 3 percent, but Carson on Thursday motioned to amend that to 8 percent on the first $1.5 million in proceeds reducing gradually to 4 percent on revenue over $20 million -- another change rejected by the Senate.

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The House passed the bill 100-65 and the Senate disagreed 48-4.

The bill would have required new public reporting mandates: the SSOs would have had to report their annual take in fees and the average value of scholarships by income quartile of the recipients. Currently, the SSOs report only the number of scholarships given by income quartile.

The tax credits have helped thousands of children attend private schools, but critics say they drain away public dollars that could be spent on underfunded public schools.

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