Senate increases tax credits for scholarships

The Georgia Senate on Tuesday approved an increase of the cap on the state’s tax credit for a private school scholarships program.

House Bill 217 was heavily amended in a Senate committee, so the legislation must return to the House of Representatives for approval of the changes.

The bill passed the House with a $65 million annual limit that would rise gradually over six years to $100 million, but the Senate trimmed that to a flat $65 million.

The annual cap on the K-12 private school scholarships is currently $58 million, and is reached on the first day of availability in January of each year.

Taxpayers pledge money — up to $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 per married couple and $10,000 for shareholders or owners of businesses (except “C” corporations, which can contribute up to three quarters of their state tax debt) — to specific private schools and get a tax credit for the amount. The money passes through nonprofit organizations, which assign scholarships to students. These organizations can keep up to 10 percent as fees, but the Senate reduced that to 3 percent.

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.

Nearly a third of the money goes to families earning more than $60,000 a year, and Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, called that a contradiction for a program promoted as a way to help families get into a private school they couldn’t otherwise afford.

Sen. Michael Williams, R-Cumming, who presented the bill in the Senate for Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the chief author, defended the use of tax dollars for the program, saying Georgians hold local control over education to be important.

“Parents are the most local control,” he said. The bill passed by a 34-18 vote.

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