Add South Carolina and Indiana to the list of states enacting nearly universal educational opportunity

Add South Carolina and Indiana to the list of states enacting nearly universal educational opportunity

Man sitting with his hands folded

Add South Carolina and Indiana to the list of states enacting nearly universal educational opportunity

Key Points

  • Indiana passed a scholarship program that will allow any family below 400% of the amount required to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program to access education scholarships.
  • South Carolina expanded their scholarship program with similar guidelines to those in Indiana.
  • Georgia failed to pass a transformative education scholarship program that would have positively impacted the lowest performing communities in the state.

The year isn’t even halfway over, and six states have already enacted laws that create universal educational access for all students in 2023.

In total, Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, and now South Carolina and Indiana have enacted either universal—or nearly universal—educational opportunity this year. That’s on top of Arizona and West Virginia, which did so in 2021 or 2022.

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.

 

Indiana

Indiana is the most recent state to join that list. That 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.

 

The Georgia Center for Opportunity led a state-wide campaign to educate parents and legislators on the positive impact that choice brings to public education.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity led a state-wide campaign to educate parents and legislators on the positive impact that choice brings to public education.

South Carolina

Meanwhile, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster recently signed a bill into law that eventually expands that state’s scholarship program to families at or below 200% of F&R 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. 

So, what happened in Georgia?

If the Georgia Legislative Session had passed Senate Bill 233, also known as the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, it would have put $6,500 per student back into parents’ pockets so they could fund 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. 

Looking to what’s next

Public schools are not the problem. We love and support public schools—they will remain the right and best choice for the vast majority of Georgia families. But we can love, support, and move public schools forward while expanding education into new areas.

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.

Indiana and South Carolina join a growing list of states expanding educational opportunity in 2023

Indiana and South Carolina join a growing list of states expanding educational opportunity in 2023

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Indiana and South Carolina join a growing list of states expanding educational opportunity in 2023

Indiana and South Carolina have joined a growing list of states that have expanded educational opportunity in 2023. The mechanism is Education Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs, that empower all families to choose an educational option outside their locally zoned public school, if that is their choice.

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “We’re seeing an increasing tide of states choosing to give all students access to the best education for their unique needs. It’s a shame that Georgia didn’t join that list this year,” said Buzz Brockway, GCO’s vice president of public policy. “If Georgia lawmakers had passed Senate Bill 233 this session, eligible families would have had access to $6,500 to find the best educational option for their child. As it stands, these kids will remain stuck in schools that aren’t the right fit for them. Even so, we have hope for the 2024 short session with lawmakers will have another chance to advance education opportunity for all.”

For more on the ways ESAs would help kids in Georgia, check out these resources:

Georgia parents deserve full transparency from state school systems

Georgia parents deserve full transparency from state school systems

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Georgia parents deserve full transparency from state school systems

Key Points

  • Georgia received a waiver from reporting its College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) metrics, including the A-F grading system for schools.
  • The CCRPI metrics assess student performance, including comprehension of class content and preparedness for college and the workforce.
  • GADOE announced its intention to request a permanent waiver from CCRPI grading, raising concerns about transparency and public input.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state school systems across the country were waived from receiving a grade from the US Department of Education (DOE) under The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The unprecedented circumstances brought on by the pandemic created unforeseen educational  challenges. Naturally, children who spent time in lockdown, away from school, and relegated to unfamiliar online classes could be expected to fall behind educationally. Like many other states, Georgia received a waiver from reporting its College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) metrics, specifically the A-F grading system for schools that gauge their performance.

But now the state of Georgia has asked to be permanently excused from reporting the A-F grading CCRPI evaluations. The state allowed less than a week for public comment on the proposal, opting not to announce the request via press release. In the past, similar issues have allowed a 30-day window for public comment, at the very least.

With students back in school and educational institutions back to their regular operations, why make this request now? And why the lack of transparency in the process? The exemption from the A-F reporting requirement takes away the public’s ability to easily assess how schools are performing. It’s a knock against real transparency that serves no one but the educational bureaucracy.

The bottom line is that wise school choice depends on parents’ ability to access information about school performance. Without that information, they’re risking their children’s educational opportunities—and maybe even their future.



 

“The bottom line is that wise school choice depends on parents’ ability to access information about school performance.”

“The bottom line is that wise school choice depends on parents’ ability to access information about school performance.”

About the CCRPI and temporary COVID waivers

In 2012, the CCRPI was launched. Its purpose was to encourage more transparency in terms of school performance. Parents and the public needed to know more about how their local school systems were performing, and the CCRPI not only provides this information—it also allows parents to compare their child’s current school with others in the area.

In terms of measuring performance, the CCRPI assigns a letter grade of A-F to each school. The scoring system reveals how well students are performing in each school, including how well they comprehend their class content and whether they’re keeping up with their grade level. This score also reveals how well-prepared older students are for college and the workforce.

CCRPI scoring was waived beginning in March of 2020, and schools weren’t required to report data as usual. This waiver continued throughout 2021. However, in 2022, as the nation largely resumed business as usual, the Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) was awarded additional waivers.

 

Seeking a permanent exemption

GADOE published an announcement on its website on January 25, 2023, informing the public that it intended to ask the DOE for a permanent waiver from CCRPI grading. Although the state collects and aggregates all the required metrics, GADOE now seeks to stop submitting the data completely.

As the ESEA requires each state to create its own school accountability system and report its findings to the DOE, it seems questionable that Georgia would completely extract itself from transparency not only at the state level, but at the federal level, too.

Most alarming was the lack of transparency involved in the process. There was no press release published to announce the potential change. As previously mentioned, what’s even worse is that GADOE allowed for fewer than five business days for members of the public to submit their feedback, rather than the standard 30 days.

 

Reducing transparency hurts Georgia families 

While GADOE attempts to evade school grading, numbers don’t lie. Georgia’s most recent CCRPI scores from 2019 indicate that over 780 schools in Georgia received Ds and Fs. That’s about one-third of the state’s students. GADOE might argue that the proof of school performance lies in the state’s graduation rates, but graduation rates can be manipulated and aren’t a reliable indicator of how well a school performs academically.

Schools that receive Ds and Fs from CCRPI are, by default, not serving their students well. No matter how high their graduation numbers may be, the real proof is in how well (or poorly) they score according to CCRPI academic standards.

There is no compelling case that can be made as to why Georgia’s exemption from CCRPI reporting is an improvement, or how it helps families in our state.

GADOE appears to be skirting the standard process for notifying the public and seeking appropriate input. It’s up to Georgia voters to make their voices heard and demand continued school transparency from its elected officials.

Navigating the current economic crisis: A guide to surviving the job market

Navigating the current economic crisis: A guide to surviving the job market

Navigating the current economic crisis: A guide to surviving the job market

Key Points

  • As of March 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a nationwide unemployment rate of 3.5%.
  • Well-known companies are conducting large-scale layoffs—in some cases, laying off tens of thousands of employees. 
  • The BETTER WORK program can help you take the next steps in your career to secure a better job, whether you’ve been laid off or you’re simply looking to move to the next level.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the global economy, leading towidespread job losses and an uncertain future for many workers. As we continue tonavigate the economic crisis, it is important to understand the current state of the jobmarket in Georgia and strategies for finding and securing employment.

Times may be turbulent, but with the right mix of strategy, action, and support, it’s possible to find and keep gainful employment.


The state of the job market

The current economic crisis has impacted the job market in a number of ways, causing several industries to contract. Layoffs have been widespread across multiple markets. As of March 2023, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a nationwide unemployment rate of 3.5%. But with many companies announcing widespread layoffs, that number could potentially increase in the coming months.

Since January 2023, the tech industry has been hit hard by layoffs in a number of companies. The impact extended to household-name brands such as Meta, Google, Microsoft, Zoom, Netflix, Salesforce, and many others. Beyond tech, other well-known companies are conducting large-scale layoffs—in some cases, laying off tens of thousands of employees. Disney just announced 7,000 coming layoffs, while Amazon is cutting 9,000 more jobs in addition to the 18,000 jobs it cut in early 2023. Companies such as Goldman Sachs, H&M, Walmart, McDonald’s, Tyson Foods, NPR, and many others are also letting staffers go, in some cases by the thousands. 

Ultimately, white-collar workers are most likely to face layoffs as the impending recession looms. Most blue-collar jobs are still hiring, though, so workers in those sectors may fare better.


Strategies for finding employment

Having a support system to come alongside you and help with your job search is invaluable. The BETTER WORK program can help you take the next steps in your career to secure a better job, whether you’ve been laid off or you’re simply looking to move to the next level. If you’re in the Gwinnett or Columbus areas, we’re ready to help! Learn more about BETTER WORK here.

Regardless of whether you face layoffs or not, it’s important to get prepared for the possibility of a job hunt. It’s far better to update your resume and refresh your network connections now, rather than waiting until it’s too late. Here are a few things you can do to boost your chances for landing new employment, should the need arise.

1. Assess your skills and experience: What skills and experience have you acquired over the years? What about transferable skills? Make an exhaustive list of your professional experience and transferable skills up to this point. After that, consider listing out what skills you might like to acquire in the future.

2. Identify in-demand jobs and industries: If you need to launch a job search, you’ll want to start with industries that are actively hiring. You can research specific industries on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, but it’s also useful to check the pulse of the market by running searches on Google and staying up to speed on LinkedIn.

3. Network and leverage personal connections: It’s always important to meet new professional connections and keep in touch with existing ones, but now it’s more important than ever. Reconnect with professional connections and leverage your network to find new opportunities you might not come across otherwise. If you don’t yet have an account on LinkedIn, go ahead and get set up there, too. It’s a great place to showcase your skills, follow companies you’re interested in, apply for jobs, and keep in touch with professional peers.

4. Utilize online job boards and resources: There are plenty of fantastic resources online that you can use to find and apply for great jobs. Sites like CareerBuilder, Monster, Remote.co, Indeed, and FlexJobs are useful for finding strong opportunities. You can also apply directly to jobs you’re interested in through company websites.

“Having a support system to come alongside you and help with your job search is invaluable.”

“Having a support system to come alongside you and help with your job search is invaluable.”

Moving forward in the job market

Regardless of whether you’re currently job searching or preparing to do so in the future, it’s important to understand how to move forward in the job market. It’s also important to note that, according to Atta Tarki’s report in the Harvard Business Review, it’s “still a workers’ labor market.” That means, for many job seekers, the power is still in your hands. 

Don’t lose heart if you find yourself searching for new work in the near future. Embrace new opportunities and industries, cultivate and identify transferable skills, and get ready to pivot quickly if needed. Stay flexible and adaptable to changing market conditions, and plan for the future. When you remain open to new possibilities, you’ll have that much more control over your career trajectory.



 

Why parental involvement is key to a child’s health

Why parental involvement is key to a child’s health

RHCK Parent involvement

Why parental involvement is key to a child’s health

Key Points

  • Parental involvement makes a big difference in children’s development.
  • Students with involved parents have better attendance and behavior, get better grades, demonstrate better social skills and adapt better to school.
  • Parents need access to tools, which is why we are launching Raising Highly Capable Kids (RHCK) to assist parents in the daily efforts of child-rearing and to increase childhood resilience and academic achievement.

“The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of his time each day,” said chemist and author O.A. Battista.

This simple statement communicates a powerful truth about the welfare of children—that parental involvement makes a world of difference. We tend to know this instinctively, but it’s good to be reminded from time to time. And it’s crucial to learn new ways to give parents the tools they need to succeed with parenting their kids.

“As a community leader and family life educator, I work with families often,” says Joyce Mayberry, vice president of family for the Georgia Center for Opportunity. “With all of those interactions, you begin to notice consistencies. One that I notice across all demographics is that the youth who have parents involved in their lives are successful in almost every aspect.”

Why parental involvement matters

With that being said, it’s necessary to define what “parent involvement” actually means. The National Parent Teacher Association defines “parent involvement” as the participation of parents in every facet of children’s education and development, from birth to adulthood, recognizing that parents are the primary influence in children’s lives.  

Studies have shown that parent involvement has a significant impact on a child’s academic success, behavior, and overall well-being. According to the National PTA, when parents are involved, their children are more likely to:

    • Earn higher grades and test scores
    • Have better attendance
    • Be more motivated and engaged in school
    • Have fewer behavioral issues
    • Graduate high school and attend college

The Annie E. Casey Foundation concludes that students “whose parents stay involved in school have better attendance and behavior, get better grades, demonstrate better social skills and adapt better to school.”

In addition, parent involvement has been linked to better communication and relationships between parents and children.

“The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of his time each day,” said chemist and author O.A. Battista.

“The best inheritance a parent can give his children is a few minutes of his time each day,” said chemist and author O.A. Battista.

Fostering better parental involvement in Georgia

We can all agree that there are several factors that contribute to ensuring that our children present their best selves. We at Georgia Center for Opportunity have launched a new parenting program called Raising Highly Capable Kids. 

Raising Highly Capable Kids (RHCK) is a 13-week evidence-based parenting program developed to build stronger families by empowering parents with the confidence, tools, and skills they need to raise healthy, caring, and responsible children.

The program increases parents’ knowledge and skill level of the essential building blocks every child needs—the 40 Developmental Assets from Search Institute, which are proven to increase childhood resilience and academic achievement.

The lessons are available to schools, nonprofits, churches, and other organizations focused on helping to build stronger families for Georgia — and ultimately stronger communities.

GCO is facilitating course offerings for interested parents who want to learn more effective skills and strategies as they raise their children.

What’s next?

We’re still looking for partners across Georgia to bring the RHCK program to parents. We are starting an interest list for local partners who could hold a class and for adults who might be interested in taking it.

If you are interested in referring contacts or getting involved in other ways, contact Joyce Mayberry, JoyceM@foropportunity.org, to start the conversation.