March 29, 2018, Atlanta -- The Georgia Senate debates an increase to the tax credit for private schools program. Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, questions the senator in the well, Ben Watson, R-Savannah.

Tax credit scholarships for private schools to grow to $100 million

It took them a year, but the two chambers of the Georgia General Assembly finally agreed Thursday to raise the cap on tax credits for private school scholarships.

House Bill 217 had passed both chambers of the legislature during last year’s legislative session, but the chambers disagreed over how much to raise the cap from the current $58 million.

The House of Representatives wanted $100 million and the Senate wanted $65 million.

A year later, and after a couple months of negotiation, it appears the House has won, at least for a while. The bill was assigned to a conference committee in early February and on Thursday night, the last day of this year’s legislative session, the committee issued its report: It set the cap at $100 million for the next decade. After that, it drops back to $58 million.

It passed the Senate 34-20 and then the House 99-54.

In the Senate, just one Democrat voted for it, and only three Republicans voted against it. Among them was Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee.

Before the vote, Tippins indicated he was concerned about how much of the tax credits are taken by corporations. Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, carried the bill in the Senate. “I’m not trying to win you over,” he told Tippins. “But I will tell you helping children in the great state of Georgia, this is the right thing to do.”

The legislation increased reporting requirements for the student scholarship organizations that take taxpayer dollars and distribute the money to students as scholarships. But it wasn’t enough for Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, who wanted data to prove the investment in private schools is paying off for students.

“Our general revenues go down when we shell out this money,” she said. “Are we afraid of the data? Do we want to rush out and double the program without the data?”

The legislation now goes to the governor.

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