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.

 

Georgia is leading the charge on expanding educational opportunity for every child

Georgia is leading the charge on expanding educational opportunity for every child

School children

Georgia is leading the charge on expanding educational opportunity for every child

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has issued a proclamation declaring January 22-28 as National School Choice Week.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “Parents are demanding more options in education, spurred on by the seismic changes we’ve seen in K-12 schools during the pandemic,” said Buzz Brockway, executive vice president of public policy for GCO. “On this front, we’re proud that Georgia is leading the charge on expanding educational opportunity for every child, not just for those from families with the right income or who live in the right zip code. This legislative session, Georgia lawmakers must build on the progress we’ve made in recent years by approving Education Scholarship Accounts to ensure educational access for all.”

 

Opinion: Georgia students need more schooling choices

Opinion: Georgia students need more schooling choices

In The News

Opinion: Georgia students need more schooling choices

Georgia lawmakers have a unique opportunity this legislative session to change lives. All it takes is one step — passing Education Scholarship Accounts, or ESAs.

The undeniable truth is that parents want more educational options for their children and the kids certainly deserve it after historic learning losses caused by government-mandated school closures.

A recent poll from the Walton Family Foundation found that 72% of voters believe “improving K-12 education” should be a top priority for state lawmakers headed into 2023. Only the economy and inflation ranked higher at 76%. Furthermore, the poll reveals the number of parents who want bold actions jumped by 10% from 2021 to 2022. Nearly half are now demanding major changes because minor, incremental improvements are not helping their kids catch up.

Of the learning losses from pandemic-induced classroom closures, 75% of parents said their “students are mostly still behind,” while two-thirds said their students have lost learning due to the pandemic.

Let’s not merely dismiss parental concerns about education with more lip-service or another round of half-hearted efforts that merely pour more money into unworkable solutions. After all, if one-size-fits-all solutions or throwing more money at the status quo worked, major educational reforms wouldn’t be in such high demand across the nation.

Behind the statistics are real-life stories of students and parents devastated because they are not succeeding academically but can see other promising options that are just out of reach financially. This is a heartbreaking scenario too many families are facing.

The good news is there are real ways to address learning loss by tailoring education to fit individual needs. The simplest and best way to empower students is through funding scholarship accounts that provide the flexibility that parents and guardians need and offer real results.

Direct scholarships that fund students over an educational bureaucracy tips the balance of power in favor of those who best understand the needs of their child. It allows parents and guardians to access funds directly so they can purchase curriculum, pay for private school tuition, private tutoring, or even individual therapy for the child they love. It’s better than vouchers because it can do more than just pay a tuition bill. The added assistance will improve many public schools — since it boosts student performance no matter where families decide to access education.

Unfortunately, last year’s Promise Scholarships, which would have allocated $6,000 in funds for ESAs, did not pass the legislature. It was a major lost opportunity for students and their frustrated families throughout our state.

Given that state lawmakers reconvene this month, it’s time for them to make up for the lost opportunity by passing ESAs into law and expanding educational freedom for young Georgians and their families.

And we have reason to be hopeful that that’s just what they’ll do. The new lineup of leadership in the Georgia legislature increases the likelihood that ESAs will become law. In both chambers of the General Assembly, the leadership teams have nearly universal pro- educational opportunity voting records in recent history — something very new to the Georgia political landscape.

The simple truth is that it’s past time for our elected leaders to make good on their fundamental obligation to provide for the effective education of every child in Georgia. Parents and guardians are demanding it and their students are suffering without it. It’s time for true leaders to step forward and deliver.

We will stand and fight with these families until more options like Promise Scholarship are a reality.

Read the full article here

Originally published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

What will 2023 hold for educational opportunity in Georgia?

What will 2023 hold for educational opportunity in Georgia?

HS boy with tablet

What will 2023 hold for educational opportunity in Georgia?

Key Points

  • On the House side, the leadership team has nearly universal pro-educational opportunity voting record in recent history.
  • Seventy-five percent said “students are mostly still behind due to school closures” from the pandemic, while two-thirds of parents said their students have lost learning due to the pandemic. 

  • Georgia must follow in the footsteps of states like Arizona and West Virginia, which recently passed significant new laws that expand educational access for all.

Those who support opening up access to all educational options for every child in Georgia have a lot to celebrate this holiday season. That’s because a new lineup of leadership in the Georgia Legislature increases the likelihood that our state will soon see new and innovative ways for parents to access the right and best educational option for their child.

New leadership, new opportunities

Following the results of the 2022 elections, new leadership will be taking over both chambers of the state legislature. On the House side, the leadership team has nearly universal pro-educational opportunity voting record in recent history: Jan Jones (Speaker Pro Tem), Chuck Efstration (Majority Leader), James Burchett (Majority Whip), Bruce Williamson (Caucus Chair), Houston Gaines (Caucus Vice Chair), and Ginny Ehrhart (Caucus Treasurer) all have 100% pro-educational freedom voting records.

The only member of House leadership without a perfect record on these issues is the new House Speaker, Burns. But even he only has one vote off, the 2018 vote on the Educational Savings Account, the last time a bill of this nature was voted on in the House. Burns was nominated by the Republican caucus to become House Speaker beginning in the 2023 session.

What about on the Senate side? The good news is that only one member of Senate leadership — Jason Anavitarte, Caucus Chair — voted against the 2022 bill that would have created Promise Scholarship Accounts. But Anavitarte voted “yes” on other pieces of educational opportunity legislation, including raising the tax credit scholarship cap and increasing funding for charter schools. Other top members of Senate leadership — including President Pro Tem John Kennedy, Majority Leader Steve Gooch, and Majority Whip Randy Robertson — all have 100% positive voting records when it comes to educational opportunity.

Parents want more options

A recent poll from the Walton Family Foundation found that parents who voted are deeply concerned about the direction of K-12 public education in the United States.

The poll found that 72% of voters believe “improving K-12 education” should be a top priority for state lawmakers headed into 2023. Only the economy and inflation ranked higher at 76%. 

Americans are also still deeply concerned about learning losses from pandemic-induced classroom closures. Seventy-five percent said “students are mostly still behind due to school closures” from the pandemic, while two-thirds of parents said their students have lost learning due to the pandemic. 

On average, parents said their kids missed 21 days of school in 2021 due to the pandemic. 

As for what changes need to be in store for K-12 education, in Oct. 2021 36% of voters said they wanted to see “bold changes” for schools, while that number jumped to 46% by Nov. 2022. 

Voters’ top priorities include ensuring that every child is on track in reading, writing, and math; addressing the teacher shortage; offering more career and technical education; and improving security and safety on school grounds. 




Georgia must follow in the footsteps of states like Arizona and West Virginia, which recently passed significant new laws that expand educational access for all.

Georgia must follow in the footsteps of states like Arizona and West Virginia, which recently passed significant new laws that expand educational access for all.

Expanding educational access

Throughout the 2023 session, the Georgia Center for Opportunity will be advocating for a bill similar to the one in 2022, for Promise Scholarship Accounts. Key facets of these accounts would be to enable all Georgia families to attend the school that best fits their student’s needs.

The 2022 version of the bill would have offered families up to $6,000 a year for approved education expenses. Promise Scholarships would step far beyond a typical voucher by fully putting parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s education. The funds could have been used for private-school tuition, but there would have been added flexibility depending on each family’s unique needs, extending to paying for things like tutoring, specialized therapies, or homeschool co-ops.

Georgia must follow in the footsteps of states like Arizona and West Virginia, which recently passed significant new laws that expand educational access for all.



 

Education Promise Scholarships Should be a Winning Issue

Education Promise Scholarships Should be a Winning Issue

In The News

Education Promise Scholarships Should be a Winning Issue

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a watershed moment for expanding educational options for Georgia students. For many parents and families, the pandemic was the crisis point that showed them, in stark reality, the dire need for a full menu of educational options – whether that be a traditional public school, a public charter school, virtual educational programs or home education.

You don t have to look far to understand why. During the worst of the pandemic and resulting school closures, many familes were forced into alternative ways of schooling for tthe first time ever. Families’ experience with how traditional public schools handled the shift to distance learning were mixed and inconsistent. Some schools and teachers excelled, ensuring students did not lose out on learning. Others threw their hands up –and the towel in — early. Kids have suffered as a result.