ATLANTA -- “GAE continues to stand on principle in opposing voucher bills because state taxpayer money should not be taken away from public schools to pay for private school tuition,” said Lisa Morgan, a kindergarten teacher and president of the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE). We again find ourselves fighting against proposed legislation, with the introduction of HB 60 and SB 47, that would be highly detrimental to Georgia’s public schools to the benefit of a chosen few. The negative impacts would be particularly harmful in rural areas where there is either one or no private school option for parents, approximately 81 percent of the counties in the state."
Morgan says HB 60 targets public schools that do not offer 100% in-person classroom instruction during COVID in order to subsidize private school vouchers. “It really defies logic. This bill would cost millions of dollars and at a time when our schools in rural counties need it most. Our rural school districts could be hit the hardest because in many of them there are no private school options. Money, therefore, would not only be taken from the local public schools, but it also could be used pay a private school tuition in another community miles away.”
“Our students simply cannot afford any more education cuts,” said Morgan. “Since 2003, Georgia has slashed $10.2 billion from public education. It also spends far less per student on public education than the national average and must now deal with $383 million recently cut from the K-12 budget due to Covid-19. It simply punishes our public schools that are already struggling with how to deal with the COVID crisis. This disproportionately and unfairly hurts public schools who want to reopen but cannot due to the high level of COVID transmission in their communities. Currently only 9 of Georgia’s 159 counties are not categorized with high transmission indicators and cases of COVID among students remain high.”
Morgan points out however, that private schools would not be penalized if they did not offer full-time classroom learning. “There continues to be a concern of the lack of transparency and accountability in Georgia’s voucher programs, and this is according to the state’s own Georgia Department of Audits. HB 60 would continue the legacy of vouchers not providing transparency, safeguards or accountability to Georgia’s taxpayers from which it draws its funding.”
In addition, GAE opposes the passage of SB 47 which would strip federal protections from students with disabilities. “GAE cannot fathom any bill having the potential to negatively impact our students with disabilities, but that is what SB 47 does,” said Morgan.
She points out that while SB 47 qualifies students with Section 504 plans under the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for a voucher, by accepting the voucher to pay for private school, parents are explicitly waiving their child’s rights under the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. They are waiving their rights to needed accommodations and interventions – the necessity of which qualifies them for the voucher.
SB 47 would also expand voucher eligibility by adding more than 7,000 new ailments and diseases to the list of medical conditions that qualify students for existing “special needs” private school tuition subsidies.
Almost $34 million tax dollars flow into private schools each year, most commonly benefiting children of wealthy families. Vouchers rarely cover anywhere near the costs of many private schools, some with annual tuition of $35,000, $40,000 and higher.
Again, GAE is adamantly opposed to legislation of this type and will be asking legislators to defeat it and any like legislation.