Kemp backs $6,500 private school ‘voucher’ measure

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp for the first time publicly endorsed a legislative push to expand funding for private school vouchers, wading into a debate that has divided state lawmakers and drawn fierce opposition from public school systems.

In an interview Monday with News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB’s Erick Erickson, the governor praised a Senate measure that would provide a $6,500 annual voucher as a “good bill” and urged House lawmakers to approve it before the legislative session ends Wednesday.

“I’m hopeful that we can get this over the finish line,” said Kemp. “I think they’ve really done a good job of legislating. They’ve also listened to a lot of the critics that are out there and taken some of their suggestions about accountability and other things.”

He added: “It’s just got to get the votes in the House, and I feel like they’ll be able to do that.”

Kemp has largely taken a behind-the-scenes approach with lawmakers since his reelection, but his vocal endorsement of Senate Bill 233 on the second-to-last day of the legislative session could signal he’s taking more aggressive steps to advocate for the bill.

Lawmakers have feuded for more than a decade about spending more taxpayer dollars on private education.

This year, a group of mostly Republicans rallied behind a measure to give vouchers of $6,500 per student to spend on private education or home-schooling to give families greater options to leave public schools. The state would then deduct the schools’ funding for that student.

Opponents say the vouchers would irrevocably damage local public school systems in dire need of more taxpayer support. They warn it would be particularly harmful to schools in poor neighborhoods that could lose more affluent families.

Similar legislation failed last year after a group supporting school vouchers bombarded conservative voters with leaflets comparing GOP lawmakers to “radical left” figures. At the time, then-House Speaker David Ralston declared it the “dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

But the effort gained traction this year. A measure that would let parents use state money for private school tuition and home-school expenses narrowly passed the state Senate in a party-line vote earlier this month.

And it could get another vote in the House before Wednesday’s deadline after stalling in the chamber last week. The governor expressed cautious optimism the measure could prevail despite staunch opposition.

“We’re going to continue to remain vigilant and be strong supporters of choice in education,” he said.