Editor’s note: Georgia’s Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program has suffered from gaps in its law that have led to legitimate questions about transparency. We invited Derek Monjure, executive director of the Arete Scholars Fund, to provide his take on the bill that passed the Georgia Legislature last week. Arete has provided 2,300 scholarships to 1,100 low-income students in less than three years. It also has established a reputation for operational transparency and safeguards that have exceeded requirements in the law.
Georgia took a giant step forward last week on educational freedom. After two years of persistence from school choice supporters, and with input from critics, the 2013 Georgia Legislature responded decisively to improve and grow a tuition tax credit program that already serves more than 11,000 Georgia children.
Our state’s political leaders should be commended for their efforts. By passing House Bill 283 with bipartisan support, legislators continued to shift the focus away from education delivery methods to the best interests of children – further enabling parents to choose the learning environment that best fits their own kids. Changes to the law will help ensure that students and families who have the fewest educational choices are not forgotten.
Unlike similar programs in 11 other states, the Georgia tax credit scholarship program has been frequently questioned by opponents of choice for its ambiguities and lack of transparency. House Bill 283 clarifies the law and moves Georgia wisely forward on parental choice. The bill requires public school attendance for scholarship recipients. Exceptions are granted for students assigned to failing public schools and subjugated to bullying. The law further eliminates quid-pro-quo giving. HB 283 increases the amount of donations that must be used for scholarships, raises the annual cap on tax credits to $58 million, and requires student scholarship organizations to report the household income and composition of their scholarship recipients.
For the first time, both program supporters and opponents alike will have a clearer view of how tax credit dollars are spent.
With greater transparency and protections against abuse, tax credit scholarships will remain a valuable component in the long-term solution to improve education for all Georgia students. We need more of this kind of clear vision in our educational policy and strategy. The diligence of the governor’s office along with the actions of this Georgia assembly have laid a strong foundation for continued bipartisan collaboration for the benefit of our greatest asset, our children.
Good conduct is made easier in the bright light of day. We are grateful that Gov. Nathan Deal, his Deputy Chief of Staff Erin Hames, and Georgia lawmakers all moved forcefully this year to shine the light of accountability on a program that is transforming the lives of students throughout our state. A stronger tax credit scholarship program means a brighter future for more Georgia children from all income levels.