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 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.

Are Work Requirements Good or Bad?

Are Work Requirements Good or Bad?

Man sitting with his hands folded

Are Work Requirements Good or Bad?

Key Points

  • The arguments around work requirements ignore the purpose of how our safety net services should work.
  • The public, in general, agree with the argument for work requirements because they see the system as a temporary solution.
  • We must reform the system so that we move people into opportunity and thriving.

As the federal government debates the debt ceiling and attempts to bring spending under control, one recurring topic is work requirements for adults on government benefits and safety net services. The argument is that implementing work requirements will encourage more people to leave welfare programs, which in turn would decrease spending on one of the biggest expenses in the federal budget.

However, the debate about work requirements should not, in my opinion, be connected to fiscal accountability. Instead, it should be linked to the central purpose of these services and the people needing them.


A look at work requirements

To understand these challenges we need to look at the differing opinions on work requirements. On one side you hear the argument that not requiring work for benefits like SNAP and Medicaid is a disincentive to work for those on benefits. In other words, people are staying on benefits longer than necessary because there is no benefit to getting off, and in many cases, it is more costly to get off.

On the other side, the argument requiring work is simply a way to save money which ultimately hurts the poor. The argument is people in need of food support and healthcare will not be able to work and thus will be forced off of services without work.

Both of these arguments ignore the full experience of those on safety net services. Therefore, I want to challenge us to set aside political talking points and have a real discussion on the issue. These arguments are fraught with finger-pointing and people assigning motivations to each other. The discussion around work requirements is important because it challenges us to ask, “What is the purpose of our welfare system?”


With The Alliance for Opportunity, we are crafting policies that will create a clear path to get off safety net services and into opportunity in Georgia.

With The Alliance for Opportunity, we are crafting policies that will create a clear path to get off safety net services and into opportunity in Georgia.

Work requirements aren’t a bad idea

At the Georgia Center for Opportunity, we generally agree with the idea of work requirements, but not for the reasons political pundits throw around. We are not trying to “weed out bad actors” or trying to reduce government expenditures. Those outcomes may come to pass but they cannot and should not be the intent of such measures. 

While there is a politicized debate currently raging, the idea of requiring work to continue to receive benefits is not new. FDR’s New Deal, the framework for our current safety net system, pushed for a system that helped those unable to work like children or disabled individuals. The expansion of such a system to cover the unemployed came later in the process and was designed to be a stopgap between employment.

As the system expanded even further, it became apparent the support should include systems to get people back into work—this led to job training and education programs.

That is where we are today and ultimately how we should be looking at the safety net system for those able to work. The system must be designed to ask, “How can we help you get back on your feet and be self-sustainable?” Not because you are only valuable if you work, but because you are a valuable member of society. This view of membership is probably why work requirements are very popular among the US population. We value and understand the importance of work.

The research on the value of work is expansive. It leads to positive outcomes for families, improved personal mental health, and deeper community value. It is what we should want for people. It is what we should build our services to provide people, not a paycheck but an opportunity.

The arguments against work requirements 

The issue becomes more complex when you recognize the valid arguments against work requirements. One of these is that work requirements don’t increase work rates—they simply cut people off of needed services

The argument is that these requirements add another stress level to people just trying to survive. This creates yet another hurdle for those already struggling to navigate a complex process. The result is people find a different means to survive or they simply give up. Obviously, no one wants to add to people’s burdens.

Rather than arguing against work requirements, these challenges highlight the flaws in our current system. The system is poorly designed and does not lead to the outcomes we want for people.

Work requirements are a good policy in a bad system

Policymakers are notoriously inept when it comes to policy reforms. Half-measures have resulted in a system that is not focused on outcomes. If the system were structured to reduce complexity and alleviate stress for those seeking job support, then a work requirement could be the positive encouragement it should be.

This is one reason we are working with other state think tanks on a One Door Model that would transform our safety net services and create a clear, supportive, and accessible path to work.

These types of policies are critical to ensure that we are helping those in need. They are also critical to ensure that we deliver dignity and hope as an outcome. 

Businesses fleeing cities over crime is a warning sign we can’t ignore

Businesses fleeing cities over crime is a warning sign we can’t ignore

tent camp, homeless

Businesses fleeing cities over crime is a warning sign we can’t ignore

Key Points

  • Crime is causing businesses to flee communities already experiencing a lack of opportunity.
  • As businesses flee high-crime areas, there is a negative impact on the price and availability of goods in underserved communities
  • Communities will see healthcare and community health impacts from this loss of retailers.

We keep hearing about it: Businesses and retailers fleeing downtown areas—or entire city communities—due to violence, theft, and crime. It happened in Portland, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but it should be a warning to other cities around the country.

The exodus of companies due to crime creates a downward spiral for communities already experiencing a lack of opportunity.


When businesses flee a community they take convenience, jobs, and access to goods. The result is a market crisis where demand stays steady while limited access increases the price of goods and incomes stagnate or decrease. 

The inability to access goods at reasonable prices is a direct response to the loss of competition. No longer are you able to buy essentials at market value but instead you pay premium prices as supply is constrained. This is no different than what we experienced nationally over the past few years as supply constraints pushed the price of gas, milk, and other essentials higher.

This limitation of access to transportation, clothing, and food will have consequences in other areas of community health and opportunity.


Take the limited access to food issue. We know that lack of healthy food options in underserved communities is an ongoing problem. Cheaper food options, which are “shelf-stable,” tend to be less healthy. This creates a downward trend of poorer health outcomes like obesity resulting in a rise in healthcare costs.

Communities with a lack of affordable healthy food options get stuck in a cycle where they are less healthy, less likely to work, and more dependent on temporary, less-reliable healthcare. When we see stores closing or moving out of a community due to violence, we see smaller businesses that cannot afford to absorb the costs of throwing out healthier foods. The result is that these businesses tend to stock less perishable and more unhealthy items on their shelves.

This means that these communities become more dependent on systems and services to survive long term. Our safety-net programs are designed to be temporary systems that catch people (or even communities) at the point of tragedy to help them get back on their feet. But when opportunity flees, these individuals are left hopeless, looking for what’s next. They become trapped in their circumstance.

“…communities become more dependent on systems and services to survive long term.”

“…communities become more dependent on systems and services to survive long term.”


Crime and the unwillingness to address crime robs communities of value. It makes these communities into societal pariahs.

Not only are these communities unable to access adequate goods, they are unable to find local jobs and services. When companies flee an area, they take hundreds of entry to mid-level jobs. In a community that is reliant on these types of job opportunities, it once again means they have no path out of their current situation.

In his study of ethics, Immanuel Kant asserted that “if you steal from him, you steal from yourself.” It’s a philosophical acknowledgment that crime steals from the entire community. It takes livelihood, property, and security away from everyone in the community including the perpetrator because it destabilizes.

While it’s hard for some to have sympathy for a mega-corporation needing to close a store, it is a warning sign to the health of that community. Vibrant communities, which we often speak of here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, are ones that attract opportunities. They are communities so lively that everyone, even mega-corporations, wants to be a part of them. As we begin to see these companies leave a community it catches headlines, but the real-world impact is much more than a temporary blip in our newsfeed.

We must address crime in communities to keep opportunity open to all.

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National Police Week: Community Benefits of a Strong Police Force

National Police Week: Community Benefits of a Strong Police Force

2023 police week, national police week, police, police week, men in blue

National Police Week: Community Benefits of a Strong Police Force

Key Points

  • Each May, National Police Week honors America’s law enforcement members, especially those who have fallen in the line of duty. 
  • Lower crime and violence is a proven community benefit of having more police. 
  • Investing in local police forces is a practical way to reduce violence in areas like Atlanta and Columbus.

Every May, a week is designated as National Police Week to honor America’s law enforcement members, especially those officers who sacrificed their lives while serving their communities. Along with remembering these local heroes, Police Week is an opportunity to reflect on the role law enforcement has in building vibrant communities where everyone can achieve their potential. 


The Community Benefit of More Police: Less Crime. 

In 2020, 21% of U.S. residents had contact with the police, with most interactions relating to traffic stops or accidents, reporting of crimes, or seeking help with non-crime emergencies. Behind all of these interactions is a larger societal benefit of well-staffed, well-managed police forces: less violence. 

Josh Crawford, GCO’s Director of Criminal Justice, notes: “Police are the element of the criminal justice system most visible to the public and the arm with which citizens are most likely to interact.”

That presence is key to discouraging crime and boosting people’s confidence in the safety of their communities. Over the past couple of decades, research has affirmed what many intuitively know—that having more police helps lower crime and violence.


  • 2002: Criminologists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that “a 10 percent increase in police levels lowered crime rates by 1.4 percent over time.”
  • 2004: Economist Steven D. Levitt examined data from 122 cities around the U.S. from 1975 to 1995 and found that increased police numbers brought down violent crime by 12 percent and property crime by eight percent.
  • 2015: A Brennan Center for Justice report found that “increases in the number of police officers had a modest, downward effect on crime in the 1990s, likely between 0 and 10 percent.”
  • 2018: A 2018 study looked at police and crime data from 1960 through 2010 and concluded that every $1 spent on policing generates about $1.63 in social benefits, mostly through reductions in homicides.

Georgia’s Communities Have a Police Shortage Problem 

Georgia is one of many states grappling with a shortage of police officers. Areas like Atlanta and Columbus in particular have struggled to recruit and retain enough officers, and communities are feeling the strain as violence rises and wait times increase for emergency responses. 

According to the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), police shortages have had three major drivers: 

  1. Law enforcement agencies can’t hire enough officers. An April 2023 survey of police agencies found that “police agencies are losing officers faster than they can hire new ones.” The talent pool is also shrinking. Agencies have reported a noticeable decrease in the number of applicants for open positions.
  2. Officers are leaving before retirement age. Based on exit interview data available from police agencies, the top reason officers resign is to take another job in law enforcement. The second highest reason is to switch their career path altogether. 
  3. More officers are approaching retirement. According to PERF’s survey data, approximately a quarter of U.S. police officers have reached retirement age or will be eligible to retire within the next three to five years. 


Investing in Local Police Is Necessary for Growing Vibrant, Low-Crime Communities

According to Crawford, defunding or otherwise redirecting money away from local police is not the answer

“Proponents of ‘defund the police’ are quick to point to the fact that the money taken from police agencies would be reallocated to a myriad of social programs and direct investment in underserved communities,” said Crawford. “Worthy as these individual programs and investments may be, there is no social program that can replicate the essential functions of policing.” 

In 1995 and again in 2009, federal grants from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) helped state and local law enforcement agencies address officer recruitment and retention challenges. The track record of this funding was strong: Police hires increased, and crime went down. Various research on COPS funding suggests another grant round could help police agencies address today’s staffing shortages — as long as the funding is tied to increasing full-time, sworn officers within the specific departments receiving the grants. 

Whether it’s at the federal level or efforts closer to home, we should direct resources to what we know serves our neighborhoods best. Communities benefit when they have more officers with more hours of better training, not fewer officers with less training. 

Georgia parents deserve full transparency from state school systems

Georgia parents deserve full transparency from state school systems

College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) metrics, Georgia opt out, reporting, learning loss, grading system for schools, Georgia news, ga news

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.

Inflation is becoming worse for Americans on a fixed income

Inflation is becoming worse for Americans on a fixed income

In The News

Inflation is becoming worse for Americans on a fixed income

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that in April the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 0.4%, not seasonally adjusted. Year over year, the CPI has gone up 4.9% in the last 12 months.

The Georgia Center for Opportunity’s (GCO) take: “Not only has the federal government abandoned restoring purchasing power, they do not appear even capable of bringing inflation down to the Federal Reserve’s inflation rate target of 2%,” said Erik Randolph, GCO’s director of research. “Devaluing the dollar means that Americans must have comparable wage inflation just to keep with prices. That’s worse for Americans living on fixed incomes, the working class, and the poor.”