The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act (SB 233): Questions and Answers

Key Points

  • Georgia Promise Scholarships (Senate Bill 233) is a proposed education choice program that would allow parents to access the best schooling option for their child. These state-funded scholarships would give parents $6,500 per student for each school year. 
  • Eligibility would be limited to kids in the bottom 25% of public schools as graded by the Georgia Department of Education. 
  • On March 14, 2024, the Georgia House voted 91-82 to pass Promise Scholarships. The bill will return to the Georgia Senate for a review and vote on the changes to the bill.

Across the country and in Georgia, parents are calling for more choice and flexibility in K-12 education. Several states have already responded to parents’ needs by creating education savings accounts and other education options, but Georgia has been slow to catch up.

In 2023, Georgia Senators passed Senate Bill 233 to create the Georgia Promise Scholarship program. This proposed program would give parents $6,500 to pay for the schooling option best suited to their child’s needs. While it was a big step for SB 233 to make through the Senate, the bill did not pass the House of Representatives in 2023. The legislation remained eligible for consideration in 2024, and the Georgia House voted to pass the bill (with some changes) on March 14, 2024. 

Here’s what parents and voters need to know about the proposed program. 

What is SB 233, the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act? 

The Georgia Promise Scholarship Act (SB 233) is a type of education choice program for parents and families. It creates Promise Scholarships, which are state-administered, state-funded accounts that would give families $6,500 per year and per student to use for approved education expenses. Another common name for this type of program is “education savings accounts.” 

An important distinction for Georgia Promise Scholarships: Eligibility is limited to students in the bottom 25% of Gerogia’s public schools. 

How would Georgia Promise Scholarship Accounts work?

The state would set aside the scholarship amount into an account the parent can direct. Parents could use these funds for the education option that best supports their child’s unique learning needs.

In 2024, Georgia Representatives made a few changes to the Promise Scholarship bill that limit its impact:

Funding Cap: Even though Promise Scholarship funding will be separate from public school funding, it cannot exceed 1% of public school funding. At this level, the program could serve an estimated 21,000-22,000 kids (0.012% of Georgia’s public school student population) compared to the 500,000+ kids that are stuck in the bottom 25% of public schools.

Expiration date: Unless a future legislative body evaluates the program and chooses to extend it, the Promise Scholarships will end in 10 years. Furthermore, lawmakers will still have to vote to fund the program in each of those years. These measures add a layer of uncertainty that makes it difficult to secure a future of success and opportunity for our kids.

Who could apply for a Promise Scholarship? 

To be eligible, families and students must meet the following criteria:

  • Parents must be Georgia residents.
  • The student must be enrolled in a Georgia public school that receives a D or F grade from the state’s Department of Education (the bottom 25% of public schools).  
  • The student may be entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten.
  • Once eligible, a child remains eligible through 12th grade.  
  • The student cannot be enrolled in a local school system, charter school, or state charter school while participating in the scholarship program.
  • Parents must agree to use accounts only for qualifying education expenses.

Do you qualify?
Use our interactive map to see which schools are in the lowest 25% of Georgia’s public schools.

Do you qualify?
Use our interactive map to see which schools are in the lowest 25% of Georgia’s public schools.

What could Georgia parents use a Promise Scholarship for?

Unlike Georgia’s other school choice programs, Promise Scholarships give parents the flexibility to buy multiple education products and services to personalize their child’s education. Parents can use accounts to pay for one or more qualifying education expenses:

  • Tuition and fees for private schools, vocational programs, or college
  • Cost of online programs or classes
  • Tutoring services
  • Curriculum and textbooks 
  • Technology, including adaptive or assistive technologies for students with special needs
  • Educational therapies
  • Transportation costs

How is the Promise Scholarship amount determined?

Amounts are set at $6,500, which is approximately the average per-pupil amount that the state sends to local school districts, based on Georgia’s current student funding formula.

Are Promise Scholarships currently available in Georgia?

Not yet, but there is good progress being made. In 2023, the Promise Scholarship bill passed the Senate, and in 2024, it cleared another major hurdle when it passed the House of Representatives.  

Since the House of Representatives made changes to the original bill, SB 233 will go back to the Senate for a review and vote of agreement on the changes. To fully pass, the bill will need Governor Kemp’s signature. 

If Promise Scholarships are signed into law, parents can expect the program to be up and running by Fall 2025.

Why does Georgia need Promise Scholarships?

There are three important reasons: 

1. Georgia has a widespread problem of underperforming or failing public schools. At least one in four Georgia students (500,000 kids) are stuck in schools that receive a D or F grade from the Georgia Department of Education. For families seeking alternatives, Promise Scholarships are an opportunity to access other school options, including ones that may not be available or affordable otherwise. 

2. Georgia, like many states, has thousands of parents who are frustrated with a one-size-fits-all school system. This parent movement for more education choice and flexibility has grown since the pandemic. This program would give parents more opportunity to customize their child’s education when the local public school is not the best fit.

3. The program would also benefit parents who want to stick with their local public school. States with robust education choice programs see better outcomes for all students, including those in the public school system. Education savings account programs, in particular, have a track record of empowering public schools to improve their budgets and increase student achievement. 

One in four Georgia kids are stuck in public schools with a "D" or "F" grade across Georgia.

Are Promise Scholarships the same thing as school vouchers?

No, they are two different types of parental choice programs. This question is common because critics of education savings accounts often call them “private school scholarships” or “vouchers by another name.” However, both descriptions are inaccurate and misleading.

School vouchers allow parents to use public education dollars for private school tuition only. Education savings accounts can be used for a wider range of education expenses, and they allow parents more flexibility to pay for multiple education services and products if desired.

Are Promise Scholarships the same thing as 529 plans?

No. With a 529 plan, the parents are responsible for contributing money to the account in order to save for their child’s education expenses. Promise Scholarships would be state-funded and would not require parents to contribute any of their own money. Parents can choose to use a Promise Scholarship Account for education savings, such as saving for college tuition, but the account doesn’t have the same tax benefits that 529 plans do.

Do other states have education savings accounts? 

Yes, 13 states have adopted some form of an education savings account program.

  • Arizona and Florida have the most universal education savings account programs—every student statewide is eligible to apply.
  • As of March 2023, Arkansas became the eleventh state to adopt ESAs.
  • Florida recently expanded its program to universal school choice, removing all caps previously placed on Florida’s education savings account program.
  • Utah’s program also allows any student to apply, but there is an enrollment cap of 5,000 students for the first year of the program.
  • South Carolina and Indiana have adopted nearly universal education opportunity.
  • Tennessee’s governor is pushing to make their ESA program universal (open to all students).
  • In a 2023 bipartisan effort, North Carolina expanded education savings accounts eligibility to all its students, putting it on track to be the nation’s second largest ESA program after Florida. 
  • In 2024, Alabama passed its version of an ESA program, called the CHOOSE Act, which gives parents $7,000 per student to use for the education option of their choice.

A major evolution in these programs is the trend toward universal ESAs where every kid is eligible to apply regardless of zip code, race, income, or other circumstance. Not only have all of Georgia’s neighboring states have embraced some type of ESA program, but they are also taking steps to make these programs universal. 

All of Georgia's neighboring states have created Education Savings Account programs. Will Georgia catch up by passing Promise Scholarships?

Will SB 233 take money away from Georgia’s public schools?

No. The $6,500 scholarship would be funded separately from the Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula that funds students who attend traditional public schools.

While ESAs will be a good solution for certain families, many parents will continue to access education through their local public school. That means states will still need to prioritize sufficient funding for public schools.

Will Promise Scholarships help low-income families? 

Yes. One benefit of education savings account programs is that they are one of the most equitable education choice methods out there. They give students from low-income families more opportunities to access schooling options that are often only available to families with greater financial resources.

The Georgia Promise Scholarship bill makes an intentional effort to support low-income students by giving first priority to students from families below 400% of the federal poverty level (around $120,000 a year for a family of four). 

Will the Promise Scholarship Act (SB 233) hurt homeschooling families? 

No. There are no provisions in the proposed law that would prevent homeschooling families from continuing this schooling option. Instead, SB 233 could make homeschooling an even more feasible option because families who qualify could use an account to pay for curriculum, courses, tutoring, or other educational resources that would enhance their homeschooling experience.

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