Georgia Passes Promise Scholarships and Expands Education Opportunity

Georgia Passes Promise Scholarships and Expands Education Opportunity

Georgia's new education choice program, the Georgia Promise Scholarship, expands education opportunities for kids in low-performing public schools

Georgia Passes Promise Scholarships and Expands Education Opportunity

Key Points

  • Georgia lawmakers and Gov. Kemp have officially passed Senate Bill 233, which creates a new education option called the Georgia Promise Scholarship program. 
  • Promise Scholarships will help students in low-performing public schools. Eligible students can receive $6,500 scholarships to access different education options that match their needs.
  • The program is a positive first step toward an education system that works for every Georgia kid. To make an even bigger difference, lawmakers should work toward opening up the program to all Georgia students.

On April 23, 2024, Governor Brian Kemp signed SB 233, the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, into law. This education savings account program—the first of its kind in Georgia—will give parents access to $6,500 state-funded scholarships that they can use to afford the education option best suited to their child’s needs. 

The Promise Scholarship Program empowers parents to give their kids quality education and brighter futures 

Promise Scholarships will be state-administered, state-funded accounts that give parents $6,500 per year and per student to use for approved education expenses. The program will be available beginning in the 2025-2026 school year. 

Parents can use these scholarships for a variety of education costs, including: 

  • Tuition and fees for private schools, online classes, college courses, and vocational programs
  • Tutoring services
  • Curriculum and textbooks
  • Educational therapies
  • Technology, including adaptive or assistive technologies for students with special needs
  • Transportation costs

Because of this flexibility, Promise Scholarships allow parents to consider a wide range of options—from homeschooling to private schools to other unique combinations of education services. 

“The best gift we can give our next generation is a quality education that opens the doors for new opportunities.” — Randy Hicks, GCO President & CEO

“The best gift we can give our next generation is a quality education that opens the doors for new opportunities.” — Randy Hicks, GCO President & CEO

Promise Scholarship eligibility focuses on low- and middle-income students 

SB 233 limits Promise Scholarship access to students enrolled in the bottom 25% of Georgia’s public schools, as ranked by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. 

First priority will also be given to students from families below 400% of the federal poverty level—around $120,000 a year for a family of four. Students above that threshold will be allowed to participate if funds are left over after the lower-income students are served.

These parameters—plus the funding cap that SB 233 puts on the program—means that Promise Scholarships will serve an estimated 21,000-22,000 kids out of half a million that are stuck in low-performing public schools. 

See all the student eligibility requirements here. 

The Georgia Promise Scholarship is an important step for updating our education system

SB 233 is a good step toward giving Georgia families access to high-quality, diverse education options. With more education options, students will have even better opportunities to get an education that’s tailored to their needs and sets them up for success in today’s fast-changing world. But if Georgia is serious about investing in our communities, we must keep working to close the education opportunity gap for all of Georgia’s kids. 

By passing SB 233, Georgia is catching up to neighboring states like Alabama, Florida, North Carolina that have already adopted education savings account programs. 

While Georgia is starting out with narrow student eligibility, these other states are opting for universal ESA programs, opening access to all students. Georgia will need to be open to this model if we want to give our own students the best possible academic outcomes and opportunities for a flourishing life. 

Thank you to Gov. Kemp and the lawmakers who recognized the urgency of the moment and passed Promise Scholarships to strengthen the key building block of education for thousands of kids across the state. It’s a momentous step toward a system where every child has access to quality education and a good life, regardless of income, race, zip code, or other life circumstances. 

Learn more about the Georgia Promise Scholarship

The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act (SB 233): Questions and Answers (Georgia Center for Opportunity)

What is the Georgia Promise Scholarship? (Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

The Georgia Promise Scholarship (SB 233): What Private Schools Need to Know (Georgia Center for Opportunity)

Georgia Students Need More Schooling Choices (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Governor’s Signature on School Choice Bill Is Good First Step (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Launch ‘Promise Scholarships’ (Washington Examiner)

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Did Some Districts Vote Against It?

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Did Some Districts Vote Against It?

Promise Scholarships would give Georgia students stuck in failing schools the opportunity to access schooling options better suited to their needs.

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Did Some Districts Vote Against It?

Key Points

  • On March 29, 2023, Georgia Promise Scholarships (Senate Bill 233) failed by only a few votes in the House of Representatives. These leaders had another chance to vote on the bill in 2024.  
  • SB 233 creates a much-needed education option for students zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 25% of Georgia publis schools. Of the 16 Republicans who voted against Promise Scholarships in 2023, 13 have schools in the bottom 25%. 
  • More research is showing that more education choice helps public schools and translates to better academic achievement, especially for low-income students.

On March 29, 2023, the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act (Senate Bill 233) failed by a vote of 85-89 in the House of Representatives, despite passing the Georgia Senate on March 6, 2023. 

At the time, that was the furthest that an education savings account bill had advanced in the Georgia Legislature. Despite having support from Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Burt Jones, and Speaker Jon Burns, the bill still came up six votes short of passage in the House.

Georgia needs Promise Scholarships to build its future workforce and prosperity

In late 2023, Governor Brian Kemp announced a new program called Georgia Match. Georgia Match seeks to connect every high school senior with a post-secondary education path that meets each student’s needs. The program brings unprecedented cooperation between the Georgia Department of Education, The Technical College System of Georgia, and the University System of Georgia. It’s not an exaggeration to say this program can potentially transform Georgia’s educational system and workforce.

SB 233 would allow students zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 25% for two consecutive years, according to Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI), to use a Promise Scholarship. 

  • Promise Scholarships would allow these families to access education options that they might not otherwise be able to afford or use. The scholarship could be applied to private school tuition, homeschooling materials, or other educational expenses defined in the bill.

  • The state would put the scholarship amount ($6,500) in a parent-directed account controlled by the state of Georgia for these purposes.

Based on CCRPI scores, which were last calculated in 2018-2019, 298 schools currently fall into the bottom 25% criteria. These schools are located all across Georgia, but mostly in areas of high poverty.

It’s important to note that limiting the Promise Scholarship to only the bottom 25% of schools doesn’t cover all the schools in Georgia that receive D or F grades in CCRPI.

To see Georgia Match fulfill its potential, K-12 students must be prepared to succeed in the post-secondary education path they choose—especially those students eligible for a Promise Scholarship and those who deserve better economic and social opportunities to escape poverty. 

“Our job is not decide for every family but to support them in making the best choice for their child.” — Gov. Brian Kemp, 2024 State of the State Address

“Our job is not decide for every family but to support them in making the best choice for their child.”
— Gov. Brian Kemp, 2024 State of the State Address

 [16 Republican legislators opposed Promise Scholarships in 2023. Here’s why they should have changed their vote.

Over the past 10 years, Republican governors and legislators have passed and tried to implement reforms meant to improve Georgia’s lowest-performing public schools. From the failed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment to the all-but-gutted Chief Turnaround Officer legislation, efforts for transformational reform within the traditional public school system have been stifled.

Many of the schools in question also receive intensive assistance from the Department of Education (DOE) via the Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) programs. These programs require schools to develop improvement plans in close collaboration with DOE officials. 

While these programs have helped, there’s an important detail that voters and parents should know about. Several of these schools in the bottom 25% of CCRPI performance today were schools that qualified for the Opportunity School District program back in 2015. 

In other words, these schools are still among our state’s lowest-performing schools after eight years of intensive assistance. Should we continue to tell parents to wait for another program? If your children or grandchildren were zoned for these schools, would you tell them to wait?

For several legislators, including 16 Republican Representatives, the answer has been “yes.”

Of the 16 Republican legislators who voted against SB 233 in 2023, 13 have public schools in their districts that are in the bottom 25%. Yet all 16 of these districts have private schools ready to accept more students. In addition, Georgia has a robust homeschooling community in all corners of the state, as well as a burgeoning microschool movement. Promise Scholarship recipients can access these options no matter where they live.

Get the answers to common questions about the new Georgia Promise Scholarship program.

Georgia’s Promise Scholarship Explained
Find out what the program is, how it works, and which students will be eligible. 

To meet Georgia’s diverse student needs, the answer is to expand parental options.

If we truly want Governor Kemp’s Georgia Match program to succeed, parents need more options. If we truly want all of Georgia’s students to obtain a quality education and pursue post-secondary education that prepares them for a meaningful career and a stable life, parents need more options. If we want Georgia’s economy to continue to thrive and attract new industries to our state, parents need more options.

Expanding parental options will lift our entire educational system. To see this in action, all we need to do is look south. A November 2023 study of Florida’s educational landscape found that as school choice programs matured, the positive effects were felt across the board, including within the public schools:

“We find that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program matures. In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and math.”

The students showing the most gains? Students with low–socioeconomic status (SES). 

Far from harming public schools, school choice actually improves public schools. Georgia’s students deserve to have this opportunity as well.

With SB 233, Georgia legislators had an incredible chance to set Georgia students on a path toward academic success and a bright future. Thankfully, SB 233 and Georgia’s kids received the support needed from lawmakers, and the Georgia Promise Scholarship passed in April 2024. The progam will become available for Georgia parents and students in Fall 2025. 

Georgia should lead on how to deliver a forward-thinking education

Georgia should lead on how to deliver a forward-thinking education

Media statement, in the news, Georgia news, ga news

Georgia should lead on how to deliver a forward-thinking education

A new Cygnal poll of likely general election voters in Georgia shows a 68% favorability margin for the concept of “school choice,” with 76% of parents in favor. Support levels for education savings accounts sit at 60%, support for refundable education tax credits at 55%, and support for traditional public schools at 65%.

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “Families want Georgia to be the best place to educate their child, and they want to have say in how that’s done,” said Buzz Brockway, vice president of policy for GCO. “Generally speaking, the poll shows that while a majority of people in the state are satisfied with their child’s education, there is glowing support — at or above 70% — for more education options for families. And there is nearly 90% support for every child to have access to good school options, not just failing schools. Support for education is pretty similar whether it is private, public, or even homeschooling. As we invest in educating the public we must open up to a new generation of education. Georgia can and should lead on how to deliver a forward-thinking education that is responsive to family’s and kid’s needs.”

Opinion: Georgia needs to widen schooling choices in 2024

Opinion: Georgia needs to widen schooling choices in 2024

Georgia news, in the news, current events, Georgia happenings, GA happenings

Opinion: Georgia needs to widen schooling choices in 2024

By Buzz Brockway

The year is only half over, but 2023 has already been a banner year for the expansion of educational opportunity for students in other states across America.

Georgia was so close to being one of them, but we fell short. More on that later.

Seven states have enacted laws that create universal — or near universal — access for all students in 2023: Ohio, Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina and Indiana. That’s on top of West Virginia and Arizona, which did so in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Other states have made strides toward universal access as well, including Ohio as a more recent example.

Each state has its own version of a scholarship or educational savings account that the state funds for children’s needs outside of traditional public school. For example, these types of accounts send a portion of each student’s public school dollars to allow the child to attend a private school of their family’s choice. In some cases, families who choose to homeschool their children can use the funds for educational expenses.

In Indiana, for example, the state’s scholarship program will now be available to any family below 400% of the amount required to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. That translates to a salary of around $222,000 a year for a family of four.

Previously, requirements were in place that further limited the program, such as it only being open to families with students previously enrolled in a public school or to children in the foster care system. Under the new law, only an estimated 3.5% of Indiana’s families won’t qualify for this option.

Meanwhile, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster recently signed a bill into law that eventually expands that state’s scholarship program to families at or below 200% of full- and reduced-priced lunch as well. The program is more limited in scope than Indiana’s. It will only be available to 5,000 students the first year, 10,000 the second year and 15,000 students the third year.

South Carolina’s program allows for the establishment of Educational Scholarship Trust Funds. Funds deposited in these accounts can be used not only for expanded school choice, but may also be used for special needs therapies, such as physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Tutors and transportation may also be included for families caring for special needs students.

Now to Georgia. State lawmakers had a prime opportunity to add our state to this growing list that recognizes the importance of families having educational options. Unfortunately, we fell short.

Senate Bill 233, also known as the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, would have made $6,500 per student available for parents to direct toward the best educational approaches for their children. The funds would have been eligible for use as private school tuition and public school alternatives, such as homeschooling.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, families who qualified would have had students enrolled into the lower 25% of schools in Georgia. This amounted to roughly 400,000 students.

SB 233 was a strong bill, passing the Senate with unanimous Republican support and going on to the House. Despite receiving no support from Senate Democrats, it’s excellent news that the bill made it so far through legislative proceedings.

The House vote proved to be tougher, with bipartisan representatives voting against it. Rep. Mesha Mainor of Atlanta was the lone Democrat in the House to vote in favor. On its final day of session, SB 233 was only six votes short of the 91 it needed to pass.

The good news is that the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act is eligible for reconsideration during the 2024 legislative session. Lawmakers can’t let another year pass without giving control back to parents.

Public education is a foundational and vital part of the success of American society, but an increasing number of families are looking toward alternatives — and their choices are just as valid. We must work to deliver quality education to all students, which means finding ways to support families who take a different schooling path. While many will access their education through public schools, not all kids are a perfect fit for that system and they cannot be left behind.

Buzz Brockway is executive vice president of public policy at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. He is a former Georgia state representative and is chair of the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia.

Read the full article here

 This opinion was originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on August 7, 2023. 

Opinion: Georgia needs to widen schooling choices in 2024

Georgia Democrat calls for lawmakers to pass school choice bill

Georgia news, in the news, current events, Georgia happenings, GA happenings

Georgia Democrat calls for lawmakers to pass school choice bill

A bipartisan group of lawmakers made their case for school choice in Georgia, saying parents should have the opportunity to choose better schools for their children.

During this year’s session, Georgia lawmakers killed Senate Bill 233, the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, a measure to create state-funded education savings accounts. Nearly all Democrats and a few Republicans voted against the measure.

It called for taxpayers to cover the cost of scholarships up to $6,500 per student per school year. The proposal would have allowed the families to use the money to defray “qualified” education costs, such as private school tuition.

Last week, the Georgia Center for Opportunity lamented Georgia lawmakers’ missed chance to expand educational opportunities for Peach State students with the failure of SB 233.