Promise Scholarships Cross Major Hurdle

Promise Scholarships Cross Major Hurdle

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

Promise Scholarships Cross Major Hurdle

Key Points

  • On March 14, 2024, the Georgia House voted 91-82 to pass Promise Scholarships (Senate Bill 233: The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act). The bill was confirmed in the Senate and signed into law on April 23, 2024. 
  • SB 233 will create a much-needed education option for students zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 25% of public schools. 
  • The Georgia House added parameters to the bill that reduce accessibility and set the bill to expire after 10 years. These issues will need to be addressed moving forward so that every child can have better opportunities to access quality education in Georgia.

On March 14, 2024, the Georgia House voted 91-82 to pass Promise Scholarships (Senate Bill 233: The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act). This bill is an important first step in extending an education lifeline to low- and middle-income kids in under-performing schools. While there is still much more to do as we press toward universal school access, we are thankful to the many House lawmakers who put the needs of kids above politics to advance this measure.

What’s in the Promise Scholarship Bill?

With these Promise Scholarships, students in the lowest performing 25% of public schools will be eligible to have $6,500 a year set aside in an account. These are the funds the state would have spent for their public school education. Under this bill, parents can direct the funds to cover approved educational expenses, including private school tuition, books, uniforms, and even transportation.

SB 233 also gives first priority to students from families below 400% of the federal poverty level—around $120,000 a year for a family of four. Students above that threshold will be allowed to participate if funds are left over after lower-income students are served.

To give public schools time to plan and adjust, public school districts will still receive state funding for a period of two years to cover any students leaving to participate in the program. 

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

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

Limits to Promise Scholarships

While we are thankful that the bill moved forward in the 2024 legislative session, the version of SB 233 passed by the House is watered down in significant ways:

It restricts eligibility and access: The bill caps the amount of revenue available to fund Promise Scholarships to not exceed 1% of public school funding. Even if parent demand maxes out the program, this amount only covers an estimated 21,000-22,000 kids. That’s 0.012% of Georgia’s public school student population, and only a fraction of the 500,000+ kids that are stuck in the bottom 25% of public schools.

It applies expiration dates: Unless a future legislative body evaluates the program and chooses to extend it, the Georgia Promise Scholarship program will expire in 10 years. In that decade, lawmakers will still have to vote annually to fund the program. These measures add a layer of uncertainty that makes it difficult to secure a future of success and opportunity for our kids.

A view of the Georgia State Capitol Building, a symbol of political and historical significance in Atlanta, Georgia

Curious how your representative voted on SB 233?
Georgia’s General Assembly puts the voting records online. Go to the legislature’s website to see the breakdown of support among state representatives. 

Student success is at the heart of Promise Scholarships

The passage of SB 233 can’t come soon enough. Georgia is now surrounded by states that are aggressively and urgently addressing the needs of the future generations by adopting education savings accounts, or ESAs, that are open to all students. Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina have recently enacted universal programs, while South Carolina is in the process of creating a universal program in the coming years.

ESAs, particularly universal ones, are good policy because kids need quicker solutions for accessing education options that will work best for them. We can’t wait on reforms that will take years or even decades to take hold. As we’ve seen before, increased funding is no guarantee that poor performing public schools will improve, much less improve quickly.

Every semester, our K-12 students have academic milestones they are supposed to hit. And we know that when they don’t achieve these goals, they are more likely to fall further and further behind their peers, putting themselves and their futures at risk. 

SB 233 provides immediate help by making Promise Scholarships available beginning with the school year in 2025.

Education is a building block of a flourishing life. Without access to quality education in Georgia, our kids and our communities will continue down a path where success and opportunity are not open to everyone in the state. An increasing number of families are looking for alternatives, and we must work to provide opportunities that meets the needs of all students, not just a few.

Year in Review: A look back at how opportunity expanded in 2023

Year in Review: A look back at how opportunity expanded in 2023

new years resolution, 2024, year in review

Year in Review: A look back at how opportunity expanded in 2023

Key Points

  • Research has shown that safe communities, stable relationships, and meaningful education and work are essential to making poverty escapable. 
  • In 2023, we focused on helping communities develop solutions and tools to improve public safety, jobs, education and student achievement, and family formation. 
  • Through these accomplishments in 2023, more communities are being empowered to help people imagine and pursue better futures for themselves. 

It seems like everywhere you go these days, people are struggling. You can see it on street corners, in grocery stores, in news headlines, and—most heartbreaking of all—in the eyes of the people who have lost hope.

What they need is opportunity. And that’s exactly what the mission of the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is built to deliver. As the year draws to a close, let’s take a moment to celebrate the good that has been done to alleviate poverty by removing barriers to opportunity and creating conditions that empower people to flourish and achieve their full potential.

The good news is that research consistently shows that people who experience personal safety, get a good education, find meaningful work, and have healthy, committed relationships only have a 2% chance of falling into poverty. And for those currently living in poverty, these opportunities are the way out to experience freedom and flourishing.

In 2023, GCO celebrated big wins in several key areas that foster community transformation: public safety, jobs, education, and family formation. Here are a few examples of how we’ve helped our neighbors live better and build thriving communities. 

Public safety

Thanks to our public safety research, we convened state policymakers and city leaders in Atlanta and Columbus to look at the causes of increasing violence, and provided a proven set of practical solutions for reducing crime—especially in low-income communities. At the national level, our public safety recommendations were well received in Dallas and Louisville, and an opinion piece we co-authored reached 28.7 million people through Newsweek. Soon thereafter, MSN and other media outlets amplified its reach to another 167.1 million Americans.

And given how important it is for people to live in safe communities where they feel comfortable walking around and living their lives, we also created a resource page on our website so that elected officials, law enforcement, and community leaders can easily find the best practices for addressing crime. 



On the jobs front, our BETTER WORK program continues to help communities build local employment support systems that bring employers, nonprofits, and community partners together to help more Georgians find local jobs. We’ve also joined forces with Lyft to help people get to work and focused on solutions to the benefits cliff challenges that keep many mired in government dependency. 


Safety-net reform

This year, GCO remained on the vanguard of educating lawmakers and the public about the need for reforming the safety net. Broadly, we worked to reveal the challenges posed by benefits cliffs, which discourage people from looking for meaningful work and gaining independence. Specifically, we expanded our impact to Utah, Arkansas, and Missouri, in addition to launching a redesigned benefits cliffs website and calculator that adds Utah and West Virginia to the models.

As we educate states and businesses about the benefits cliff problem within the welfare system, we are also developing solutions that equip them to do something about it. This year, we released our first report focused on benefits cliffs solutions, which focused on fixes for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).



Our efforts to expand educational opportunity have given nearly 84,000 Georgia kids access to the schooling option that best fits their needs. And we led efforts to advance a groundbreaking school choice bill through the state senate. This means there’s strong momentum going into 2024 to expand education options for 500,000 more students stuck in Georgia’s failing schools. We also updated our Education Guide for parents and received the Lilburn Middle School Business Partner Recognition Award for partnering to deliver free relationship education classes for parents and students.

See How The Georgia Center For Opportunity Is Expanding Hope In 2024!

See How The Georgia Center For Opportunity Is Expanding Hope In 2024!



For families, parents continued to graduate from our Strengthening Families Program. And GCO kicked off our Raising Highly Capable Kids (RHCK) program with a vision-casting meeting attended by more than 20 community organizations. By reaching into homes, schools, and faith-based groups, RHCK teaches parents how to raise responsible, caring kids—and turns local communities into nurturing places where healthy families help people escape poverty. An example of how RHCK brings key stakeholders together to foster thriving families is the Lilly Endowment grant that introduced the Parents First Initiative to Lawrenceville.


National and state impact

Finally, GCO had a number of important wins with far-reaching, favorable media coverage on topics we care deeply about. This means that our voice was out there advancing importance conversations about human flourishing. For example, The Wall Street Journal ran our opinion piece calling out pre- and post-COVID crime comparisons for what they really are—an excuse not to blame bad public safety policies. And RealClearPolicy ran an article on our ideas to make safety nets more successful at turning welfare into work support.

Beyond these, GCO’s views were featured in important conversations about Georgia’s position among the leading states for economic freedom and why people remain trapped in poverty when there are so many public assistance programs. And for those concerned about rising crime across the nation, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution carried our must-read piece on public safety.


Wrapping up

Of course, these are just a handful of GCO’s successes in 2023. Yet each win adds to the legacy we are building to help our neighbors enjoy meaningful and productive lives in safe, vibrant communities that value work, education, and family. We’re proud of our successes this year, and we look forward to continuing to advance common-sense policy solutions in 2024 that bring greater peace, dignity, and freedom to individuals and families across Georgia and beyond.

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.

Money Can’t Replace Meaning and Purpose

Money Can’t Replace Meaning and Purpose

Money Can’t Replace Meaning and Purpose

American poverty

Work has intrinsic value

Last month, I had the honor of participating in the Heritage Foundation’s annual Antipoverty Forum, where scholars and practitioners discussed the state of poverty in the country and the local efforts to confront the issue.

The discussion this year centered on the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill that is now making its way through Congress and the ways in which the bill would undermine work by using much of its $2.4 trillion to expand safety net benefits and create new entitlements, all while eliminating work requirements.

Despite unemployment numbers dropping nearly to pre-pandemic lows in most states, what is not widely understood is that labor force participation (the number of people who are able to work and are actively looking for work) is much lower than when the pandemic began. Some 4-5 million people have effectively dropped out of the workforce – at least for now – despite record job openings (10.4 million in September).

While the drop in workforce numbers is partially explained by fear of COVID and mothers forced to stay home with children, much of it can only be explained as being caused by increased benefits (and the elimination of many requirements for qualifying), rescue-related payments and, now, monthly child tax credit payments. The BBB bill is very likely to make these trends and others, like inflation, worse.

Although we’re concerned that people are choosing not to work and agree that more money coming from Washington, DC, will make matters worse, my remarks reflected our concern at GCO about why worklessness harms the individual. Work is not merely about earning money; it has intrinsic value.


The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.

Championing a return to normalcy and healthy social interaction

Work provides each of us with an outlet for our God-given talents and creativity. It allows us to serve others and contribute to other individuals’ well-being in exchange for having our own needs met. More than that, it provides us with social capital and a network of colleagues and friends who can help us when we need it. Much research has also shown that worklessness leads to poor mental and physical health and can contribute to increased drug and alcohol abuse – the 100,000+ overdose deaths during the pandemic representing the latest example.

As our government wrestles with how to deal with the pandemic and sets its priorities, it should avoid anything that discourages employment and causes more isolation. For individual and societal health on every front, the government should be championing a return to normalcy and healthy social interaction – including at work – that allows the American people to be resilient during times of crisis.

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia

The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) has signed on to a coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize the use of federal emergency dollars for high-speed broadband in rural, underserved areas of Georgia.The letter makes four recommendations:

  • Target funds to areas without access to high-speed broadband, defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload

  • Avoid investments in government-owned networks
  • Reduce red tape around deployment
  • Ensure adequate resources for permitting approval


Buzz statement rural broadband


GCO’s take: “Broadband for rural areas should’ve been a priority prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s an emergency,” said Buzz Brockway, GCO’s vice president of public policy. “Good Internet access will be a boon to rural Georgia. Broadband is also crucial for some of our state’s most vulnerable students, and expanding Internet access is closely aligned with GCO’s mission to expand educational opportunity. In the middle of all this, we can’t afford to get mired in bureaucratic red tape, either. That’s why we must avoid working through government-owned networks and instead quickly review and approve applications to get this done.”