Opinion: Georgia students need more schooling choices

Georgia lawmakers have a unique opportunity this legislative session to change lives. All it takes is one step — passing Education Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs.

The undeniable truth is that parents want more educational options for their children and the kids certainly deserve it after historic learning losses caused by government-mandated school closures.

A recent poll from the Walton Family Foundation found that 72% of voters believe “improving K-12 education” should be a top priority for state lawmakers headed into 2023. Only the economy and inflation ranked higher at 76%. Furthermore, the poll reveals the number of parents who want bold actions jumped by 10% from 2021 to 2022. Nearly half are now demanding major changes because minor, incremental improvements are not helping their kids catch up.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Of the learning losses from pandemic-induced classroom closures, 75% of parents said their “students are mostly still behind,” while two-thirds said their students have lost learning due to the pandemic.

Let’s not merely dismiss parental concerns about education with more lip-service or another round of half-hearted efforts that merely pour more money into unworkable solutions. After all, if one-size-fits-all solutions or throwing more money at the status quo worked, major educational reforms wouldn’t be in such high demand across the nation.

Behind the statistics are real-life stories of students and parents devastated because they are not succeeding academically but can see other promising options that are just out of reach financially. This is a heartbreaking scenario too many families are facing.

The good news is there are real ways to address learning loss by tailoring education to fit individual needs. The simplest and best way to empower students is through funding scholarship accounts that provide the flexibility that parents and guardians need and offer real results.

Direct scholarships that fund students over an educational bureaucracy tips the balance of power in favor of those who best understand the needs of their child. It allows parents and guardians to access funds directly so they can purchase curriculum, pay for private school tuition, private tutoring, or even individual therapy for the child they love. It’s better than vouchers because it can do more than just pay a tuition bill. The added assistance will improve many public schools — since it boosts student performance no matter where families decide to access education.

Unfortunately, last year’s Promise Scholarships, which would have allocated $6,000 in funds for ESAs, did not pass the legislature. It was a major lost opportunity for students and their frustrated families throughout our state.

Given that state lawmakers reconvene this month, it’s time for them to make up for the lost opportunity by passing ESAs into law and expanding educational freedom for young Georgians and their families.

And we have reason to be hopeful that that’s just what they’ll do. The new lineup of leadership in the Georgia legislature increases the likelihood that ESAs will become law. In both chambers of the General Assembly, the leadership teams have nearly universal pro-educational opportunity voting records in recent history — something very new to the Georgia political landscape.

The simple truth is that it’s past time for our elected leaders to make good on their fundamental obligation to provide for the effective education of every child in Georgia. Parents and guardians are demanding it and their students are suffering without it. It’s time for true leaders to step forward and deliver.

We will stand and fight with these families until more options like Promise Scholarship are a reality.

Buzz Brockway is vice president of public policy for the Georgia Center for Opportunity. He formerly represented Lawrenceville as a Republican in the Georgia House of Representatives.