School vouchers get big push from Republicans at Faith and Freedom meeting

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, speaking Tuesday at a Faith and Freedom Coalition lunch, said, “I know we’re going to get school choice done this year.” (Natrice Miller/

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, speaking Tuesday at a Faith and Freedom Coalition lunch, said, “I know we’re going to get school choice done this year.” (Natrice Miller/

Despite opposition from most Georgians, Republican state lawmakers are vowing to enact legislation this session that would expand the use of public taxpayer dollars to pay for private education.

“I know we’re going to get school choice done this year,” said Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, speaking at a lunch held Tuesday by the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Jones may be optimistic, but supporters still have work to do after an effort last year fell short when 16 Republicans in the state House voted against it.

The funding mechanism, often known as school vouchers, would allow parents to pay for private schooling using taxpayer money. Advocates of the system say vouchers are necessary to allow students an opportunity to get a quality education, especially if their school district is failing.

“Being (for) school choice is not being against the public school system,” said Jones, who mentioned his mother worked in public education for 30 years. “Even in the best public school system, it’s not always the right for your child. Why wouldn’t you allow parents and children to have an option?”

However, critics of the program say vouchers could pull public resources away from those school districts in need.

During a meeting this month with Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters and editors, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said “voucher programs will destroy public education,” adding it would create a “system of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ ”

He views charter schools, which are public schools, as separate from the discussion.

A majority of registered voters in Georgia said they were not in favor of vouchers, including 50% of conservatives who voiced opposition, according to an AJC poll that was conducted Jan. 3-11 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points for the survey of 1,007 registered voters. But the issue is stronger among Republican activists.

At the gathering of Christian conservatives Tuesday, Jones tied his support for school vouchers to his stance opposing abortion, saying that “if you’re going to be pro-life, you’ve got to be pro-life at every stage.”

He mentioned efforts to ease restrictions for adoption and improve the foster care system.

Gov. Brian Kemp also shared his urgency to “get a bill passed and signed into law this session” to allow families “more freedom and choice when it comes to child education.”

“When it comes to education, our job is not to decide for each family but support them in making the best choice for their child,” he said.

In addition to education, most of the slated guests spoke about their support for Georgia’s 2019 abortion law, which bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity.

The list of speakers also included Anat Sultan-Dadon, the consul general of Israel to the Southeastern U.S., who urged attendees to view support for her country — which has been at war with the militant group Hamas since its attack killed about 1,200 civilians on Oct. 7 — as a humanitarian issue, not political.

”We will win this war and we will defeat this evil,” she said.

Israel and Hamas are currently involved in heavy fighting on the ground in the southern section of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military says it’s scaling back large-scale bombardments that have been a major factor in the 25,000 Palestinian deaths reported by the Gaza Health Ministry.

State Rep. Matt Gambill, who represents parts of Bartow County, asked for strength for “brothers and sisters in Israel” during his opening prayer.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr emphasized a call to return the estimated remaining 130 Israeli hostages being held captive by Hamas. However, Tuesday’s event was largely geared toward Christians, as speakers lamented the decline in church attendance and invoked Jesus’ name in prayers.

And speakers supported a bill that would make antisemitism a hate crime in Georgia, which passed a state Senate committee this week with unanimous and bipartisan support, despite concerns over whether it would limit criticism of Israel.