Now is the time to expand educational freedom in Georgia

Now is the time to expand educational freedom in Georgia

kids hands raised.

Now is the time to expand educational freedom in Georgia

Key Points

  • Georgia’s recent growth could be halted because it’s falling behind other states who are increasingly offering families more and more choices in K-12 education.
  •  Georgia lawmakers have another chance this year at passing ESAs. 
  • Georgia’s public schools are serving most families well — and public schools are the best option for most families in our state. But for some families, traditional public schools aren’t the best fit for their child’s needs.

Georgia is one of the fastest growing states in the country, and for good reason. But we imperil our ongoing growth if we fail to offer families the opportunity to choose a world-class education for their children. That means giving all students access to the right school for them — whether that’s a traditional public school, a public charter school, a private school, or a homeschool.

By falling short on this goal, Georgia risks falling behind other states who are increasingly offering families more and more choices in K-12 education. Two of the latest examples are Iowa and Utah. 

In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed a bill into law that creates Education Scholarship Accounts (or ESAs) for lower income Iowa families, allowing the money to follow the child to the best school for his or her unique needs. The program will be phased in over three years until it’s available to all families regardless of income.

Meanwhile, the state House in Utah approved a bill last week that would create a similar ESA, with dollars available for families to use for expenses like private school tuition, therapies, tutors, or other curriculum. That bill next goes to the state Senate.

Many Georgia parents are likely looking at families in Iowa and Utah and wondering, “Why can’t we get the same level of educational opportunity here?” It’s a good question. Year after year, lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly have considered passing our own version of an ESA, but each year the measure has fallen short.

In the current 2023 session, lawmakers have another shot at passing ESAs and it’s well past time to make them a reality. The biggest argument against ESAs is that they will hurt traditional public schools. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We believe that when families are well served by our K-12 education infrastructure, all schools will benefit. 

Georgia risks falling behind other fast-growing states unless we address the need to offer a truly diverse set of educational options.

Georgia risks falling behind other fast-growing states unless we address the need to offer a truly diverse set of educational options.

The bottom line is that Georgia’s public schools are serving most families well — and public schools are the best option for most families in our state. But for some families, traditional public schools aren’t the best fit for their child’s needs. And in many cases, those schools will never be the right fit due to challenges and needs that can’t be met at those schools.

That’s why more options are needed. Georgia risks falling behind other fast-growing states unless we address the need to offer a truly diverse set of educational options. Let’s make 2023 the year that progress happens.

 

Why educational opportunity is good for rural areas, too

Why educational opportunity is good for rural areas, too

middle school charter school

Why educational opportunity is good for rural areas, too

  • ESAs could potentially open the doors to establishing more private schools in Georgia, in both rural and urban areas.
  • ESAs would allow parents to allocate funds to their children’s specific educational needs.
  • ESAs have a positive impact on families in rural communities.

This year, the Georgia Legislature is poised to once again consider creating Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs) for families statewide. These scholarships would allocate funds to allow parents to choose the best educational option for their child’s unique needs.

Expanding educational access should be a welcome development for lawmakers and citizens alike. After all, who could argue with the idea of making educational opportunities more accessible? Unfortunately, expanding access to a wider variety of schools and academic opportunities can be an issue that divides lawmakers not only along party lines, but along the lines of an urban-rural divide as well.

For instance, Georgia lawmakers who represent rural areas have raised concerns about the impact that expanded educational opportunities could have on their local school districts. The argument goes like this: Rural areas tend to lack access to private or charter schools compared to urban areas, so efforts to increase the diversity of educational options will end up siphoning money away from traditional public schools, the one and only option available in rural districts.

As the Georgia Legislature is set to take up a bill that would create ESAs, now is a great time to debunk the myth that educational opportunity simply doesn’t benefit rural areas.

Let’s jump right into it.

Myth 1: There aren’t enough private schools near rural areas to justify ESAs

In a December 2022 interview with Conduit News, Dr. Patrick Wolf busted the myth that families living in rural areas don’t have access to private schools. He cited a 2017 Brookings Institution survey that revealed 69% of rural families live within 10 miles’ driving distance of a private school. 

“Ten miles is easy commuting distance, especially when you live out in the sticks like I do,” said Wolf. “So, the overwhelming majority of families in rural areas do have access to private schools.”

Of course, when there is demand for any product, service, or offering, society finds ways to meet those demands. The same is true for educational opportunities. Wolf explains: “The other thing that happens when school choice programs are launched statewide is more private schools spring up because there’s a greater opportunity to serve students. When you increase the demand for school choice by making it more feasible to more families, supply emerges to meet that demand. It’s just straight economics.”

In other words, ESAs could potentially open the doors to establishing more private schools in Georgia, in both rural and urban areas. 

At the time of this writing, there are 824 private schools across the state of Georgia, with 152,851 students enrolled. During 2021-2022, there were 90 charter schools in the state as well. While that number is dwarfed by Georgia’s public schools (2,308, with 1,728,049 students enrolled), it’s still significant.

Broadening educational opportunity would effectively give parents in rural areas a reason to demand more options where they live. If Wolf’s assessment of supply and demand is correct (and we believe it is), then we can expect that more rural families will benefit from private schools in the coming years as a direct result of ESAs. 

Myth 2: Disadvantaged kids don’t benefit from private or charter schools

Opponents of expanded educational opportunity often argue that disadvantaged kids don’t benefit from it. The National Coalition for Public Education argues that vouchers hurt rural areas not only because fewer students attend public schools, but also because the students themselves have to take on heavier time and economic costs in order to attend private and charter schools. They also argue that public schools are the facilities best equipped to serve diverse student populations, including minorities, students with special needs, and students from low-income areas.

But the previously cited Brookings Institution survey revealed that the majority of rural families do have reasonable access to a private school. Research also shows that disadvantaged students do, indeed, benefit from expanded educational opportunity. Students in charter schools tend to perform better academically than their peers in public schools. What’s more, low-income and ethnic minority students showed the most significant academic gains when enrolled in charter schools.

Keep in mind, too, that ESAs would allow parents to allocate funds to their children’s specific educational needs. That means families can use those funds to choose a school that is the best fit for that child. While lobbying groups and district superintendents may argue that state-funded schools are the best equipped to handle those needs, parents are ultimately the primary authority on what their children need to be successful.

 

 

Ultimately, giving families more educational options has a positive impact on long-term results, academic achievement, and parental satisfaction.

Ultimately, giving families more educational options has a positive impact on long-term results, academic achievement, and parental satisfaction.

Myth 3: Educational opportunity could hurt — not help — rural communities

Yet another argument against opening up educational opportunity is that it could hurt rural communities. In reality, though, it’s rural districts that fear losing students to private or charter schools. This isn’t a partisan issue — in fact, legislators on both sides of the aisle have argued against educational opportunity in rural areas.

They often make these arguments on behalf of superintendents, who claim that educational opportunity will have irreversible economic consequences on their districts. For example, rural superintendents often argue that important public school jobs will be lost as a result of tools like ESAs. Cuts in state funding could lead to budget cuts, resulting in fewer public school resources and causing employees in the district to lose their jobs.

However, recent data out of Florida — a state with strong educational opportunity — shows that ESAs have a positive impact on families in rural communities. As of the 2021-2022 school year, there had been a 10.6% enrollment increase in rural charter, private, and homeschool students in comparison to the previous decade. Private school scholarships had boomed, coming in at 6,992 in 2021-2022 as opposed to 1,706 in 2011-2012.

On top of all that, the demand for private schools has resulted in the creation of more. Over the past two decades, Florida’s rural private schools have almost doubled, from 69 to 120. Arguably, any jobs lost in a public school district as a result of educational opportunity could be replaced by the expansion of private school availability in any given area.

Ultimately, giving families more educational options has a positive impact on long-term results, academic achievement, and parental satisfaction. As parents and students are a part of their rural communities, it’s difficult to argue that these outcomes are detrimental to the areas in which they live.

 

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

2023 agenda<br />

A Georgia Center for Opportunity agenda for 2023

Key Points

  • Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
  • Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide.
  • Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.
As the new year dawns, we’re excited about everything we were able to accomplish with your support in 2022. But our focus is also forward, and our team is excited to expand our growth and reach into Georgia communities and beyond in 2023. Today, we’re outlining our 2023 agenda, so let’s jump right in!

Policy

Our primary education-centric emphasis will be on passing legislation for Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). But we’ll also be advocating for reforms to public school funding formulas to ensure that money follows each child to the school their parents or guardians have chosen. We’ll also support legislation to expand the Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Here are some of the other important areas where we’ll be focusing: 

        • Benefits Cliffs Reform Task Force: We’ll ask the legislature to appoint a joint House/Senate committee to investigate and seek out reform ideas for the welfare system’s disincentives to marriage and work.
        • Welfare/Workforce Integration: This is a critical piece of trigger legislation that would integrate Georgia and federal workforce development services and welfare benefits. Modeled after work done in Utah, integration will take effect when Congress passes legislation that allows it.
        • Prisoner Reentry: We will advocate for legislation that requires licensing boards to offer returning citizens the opportunity to get an occupational license upon release from prison. (These licenses would not be related to the crimes they were convicted for.) Based on our earlier successes changing the law, licensing boards are meant to be doing this already. But we’ve received word that they aren’t following the intended procedures. This new law would give returning citizens the right to appeal denials issued by a licensing board.
“There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”
There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges.”

Family

Strengthening families through better education, job opportunities, and legislation is at the heart of what we do. Many of our initiatives result in the establishment of new families, as well as adding multiple layers of stability to new and existing families. We’ll address those initiatives in other sections of this post, but for our purposes here, we’ll talk about our push to keep kids in school.

Over the course of 2023, we’ll focus on working in more schools statewide. We’ll accomplish this through our Raising Highly Capable Kids curriculum. Raising Highly Capable Kids equips parents with 40 essential developmental assets, which have been shown to improve children’s academic performance dramatically. As our reach expands, we’ll zero in on serving students from Title I schools who are at risk of dropping out.

BETTER WORK

The BETTER WORK initiative serves to help unemployed and underemployed individuals find gainful employment that helps them feel fulfilled and successful. BETTER WORK ultimately contributes to better long-term financial stability for individuals and families in Georgia. We’re committed to increasing our efforts in the new year. 

When it comes to the BETTER WORK program, we have two primary goals in 2023: 

  1. Growing our community program reach in Columbus and Gwinnett counties. We’re aiming for a combined total of 1,000 job candidates in 2023. Part of this initiative includes optimizing our mentors’ effectiveness through additional training and content. We’ll also be expanding training options for job candidates to help them prepare for the job market.
  2. Using the lessons we’ve learned from implementing BETTER WORK and creating a replicable model we can take into other communities. 

Our team is excited to broaden BETTER WORK’s reach so this highly successful program can continue to nurture, jump-start, and inspire those who need it most.

Education 

Throughout 2023, the Georgia Center for Opportunity will work toward equipping Georgia parents with essential tools and skills for finding the best learning opportunities and environments for their children. We’ll also assist them with learning how to access funding and scholarships that will help to pay for their children’s education. These combined efforts will provide parents with a more substantial voice as they advocate for better educational options. 

The Georgia General Assembly’s passage of House Bill 517, effectively raising the state Tax Credit Scholarship Program cap from $100 million to $120 million per year. In addition, HB517 removes the automatic program sunset and doubles how much individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations can contribute. While we appreciate the marginal gain of $20 million and the strengthened tax-credit program, we would have liked to see the Senate raise the cap to the House’s proposed $200 million. Hopefully, in the next legislative session, the cap will be increased further. 

Still, thousands of children in Georgia will benefit from this broadened access to high-quality education. Regardless of our organizational stance on the finalized legislation, we celebrate the educational opportunities these children will enjoy.
 

Alliance for Opportunity

In the coming year, we’ll be working alongside our partners in Louisiana and Texas to forward our joint effort to improve our respective states’ employment, welfare systems, and criminal justice policies. We’ll focus on partnering with our Congressional representatives to advocate for and advance legislation that would give states the ability to reform their workforce development and welfare programs. Ultimately, our goal is to help those programs work together seamlessly, without discouraging marriage or gainful employment. 

 

Wrapping Up

There’s much work to be done in the new year, but we’re ready to rise to the challenges. As 2023 unfolds, we remain dedicated to supporting our Georgia communities and beyond, going above and beyond to help improve policy and strengthen families, careers, and educational opportunities. Once again, we’re grateful for your support! 

 

Why are so many families switching schools?

Why are so many families switching schools?

Why are so many families switching schools?

Key Points

    • The Harris Poll found that 89% of parents whose children have switched school types report that they or their child experienced a positive change as a result of the switch.
    • A silver lining of the pandemic is that parents’ eyes have been opened to the many alternative educational options available to them.
    • We are hopeful that lawmakers will pass Promise Scholarship Accounts in the upcoming legislative session.

    Did you know that one-in-five families switched the school their child attended during the pandemic?

    That 20% figure might seem remarkable given that it covers just a two-year period, from March 2020 to May 2022. That remarkable statistic is one of many findings in a national survey of more than 5,000 parents, conducted by the Harris Poll in May 2022. The poll not only documented whether parents switched schools, but their reasons for doing so and whether they ended up happy with their choice.

    On that note, the poll found that 89% of parents whose children have switched school types report that they or their child experienced a positive change as a result of the switch.

    The pandemic changed everything

    Clearly, the seismic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have prompted millions of families to switch up their approach to education. The demand for alternatives to traditional public schools is evident here in Georgia. For example, charter schools experienced a 5% increase in enrollments during the pandemic, while traditional public school enrollments dipped by 2%.

    We’re excited to see the growth of schools like DeKalb Brilliance Academy, a new charter school serving the Decatur area, and Bright Futures Academy, a private school serving students in some of the poorest zip codes in the Atlanta area. Also encouraging is the number of families continuing to homeschool even after classrooms have re-opened. A silver lining of the pandemic is that parents’ eyes have been opened to the many alternative educational options available to them.

    The bottom line is that public education should be about ensuring all students have access to a quality school. As parents exercise their rights and choose the schools that best meet the needs of their child, it is imperative that leadership in the state and country respond with legislation that supports and does not hinder the needs of students and parents. The pandemic changed everything and policymakers must respond.

     

    We are hopeful that lawmakers will pass Promise Scholarship Accounts in the upcoming legislative session.

    We are hopeful that lawmakers will pass Promise Scholarship Accounts in the upcoming legislative session.

    What’s next

    That’s why we are hopeful that lawmakers will pass Promise Scholarship Accounts in the upcoming legislative session. The version of the bill introduced in the last legislative session would give each student $6,000 to be used on an approved education expense, such as private school tuition, tutoring, homeschool curriculum, virtual classes, college classes, therapies (for kids with special needs), or technology.

     

    A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

    A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

    year in review 2022

    A look back at everything we accomplished together in 2022

    As 2022 comes to a close, let’s take a moment to share some of the many accomplishments the Georgia Center for Opportunity achieved with your help this year. Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family. 

    While we’re proud of the year’s progress, we’re also incredibly grateful for your support. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done together.

     

    Work

    BETTER WORK is a core part of the GCO’s mission to help vulnerable populations gain the skills needed to thrive in a job and a career. In 2022, we made big strides forward in growing this program.

    Our BETTER WORK chapters in Gwinnett County and Columbus experienced significant growth this year. Over 400 people applied to the programs, and we recruited 95 employer partners and 42 mentors. We also began offering on-site service at local cooperative ministries.

    Dovetailing with our mission to help our neighbors thrive through work, we seek to reform the social safety-net system to ensure that it doesn’t punish people for working. A large part of this has been through our work on benefits cliffs, which unfairly punish people for moving up the economic ladder. On this front, we rolled 12 states into the program at BenefitsCliffs.org, which now covers one-third of the U.S. population. We also presented to national audiences on benefits cliffs: SNAP congressional testimony, the American Legislative Exchange Council, State Policy Network annual meeting, the Heritage Foundation, True Charity Summit, and the Kentucky legislature benefits cliffs joint committee.

    We launched a project in Missouri and North Carolina to advance social safety-net reforms in those states. Additionally, we recruited a congressional sponsor to introduce a bill allowing all states to integrate workforce development into their welfare programs. Both BETTER WORK and our benefits cliffs work are making an impact on a national scale, and we anticipate building more momentum in the coming years.

     

    Education

    Expanding opportunity necessarily includes greater access to better education, which directly leads to better careers. During the 2022 session of the Georgia Legislature, the GCO team successfully advocated for a bill that expanded the tuition tax credit scholarship by $200 million dollars. The result: an additional 4,000+ students now have access to this important program. 

    We also backed a bill that would have created Promise Scholarship Accounts, which would have offered families up to $6,000 a year for approved education expenses. Unfortunately, this bill was voted down in committee, but we are optimistic similar legislation will be passed in the upcoming 2023 session. To advocate for the bill, a GCO marketing campaign resulted in 7,573 calls to lawmakers in support of the bill and 1,050 messages across 21 districts.

    “Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family.”

    “Each of these wins contributes to our enduring legacy of helping fellow Georgians live a better life through the power of work, education, and family.”

    Family

    A great education and involvement in meaningful work are not sufficient. We also need healthy relationships in order to thrive. That’s why another part of GCO’s mission is to strengthen couples and families. On that front, we recruited more than 500 people to participate in relationship-enrichment training, and we offered the classes in seven public schools and seven nonprofit partner agencies. University of Georgia assessments continue to show our programs improve knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors — all best future predictors of improved relational health.

     

    Looking Ahead to 2023

    As 2023 approaches, we’re so excited for what the future holds. With another year comes new opportunities to help not only our fellow Georgians, but people across America to find better work, better education, and stronger family relationships. Again, we thank you for your generous support and look forward to what unfolds in the New Year.