Sen. Greg Dolezal (left), R-Cumming, watches as his bill, SB 173, a proposal to use taxpayer funding to send public school students to private schools, failed in a close vote. The legislature was in session for the 27th day of the 2019 General Assembly on March 5, 2019.   
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Lawmakers may again seek public funding for private education

A private school funding proposal that was among the most controversial education bills of the last Georgia legislative session will likely resurface next year when lawmakers return to the Gold Dome. 

Speaking at a conference Friday, Mike Dudgeon, the policy director for Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, acknowledged the passions around what are known as Education Savings Accounts, but said Duncan is committed to letting parents decide how to spend tax dollars on the education of their children. 

Schoolkids raising their hands in classroom at school
Photo: Wavebreakmedia/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The accounts, adopted in some other states, allocate state education money that would have gone to the local school system to a savings account directed by parents. 

As with so-called school “vouchers,” the money can go toward private school tuition. Unlike typical vouchers, the savings account funds can also be used for other educational expenses, such online schooling for homeschooled students, or speech therapy and tutoring. 

Public school proponents fought two attempts to pass such savings accounts bills. Last year, Republicans sided with Democrats to defeat House Bill 482. on the floor of the House of Representatives. Then, in the most recent legislative session, Senate Bill 173 met a similar fate on the Senate floor, despite support from both Duncan and Gov. Brian Kemp. 

>> Previous reporting | Georgia Senate rejects new private school funding bill

Dudgeon, a former Republican state representative, said Democrats painted savings account proponents as the "enemy of public education," and he said some rural lawmakers were concerned about the effect on the budgets of their local schools. 

"When you have both those headwinds of politics it makes it tough," Dudgeon said while speaking on a panel at a Cobb County conference of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. 

Dudgeon said there is "enormous" energy behind the scenes in efforts to "solve" those political issues: "We are working very, very hard to see if we can have a solution that we can roll out next year, or give it a try anyway."

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