Why Georgians should support Student Scholarship Organizations

Published 5:00 pm Friday, October 5, 2018

Dear Editor, 

The column “Does anybody care what Georgia’s schoolteachers think?” is the second one written by Dick Yarbrough attacking Georgia’s SB10 law. This law made provisions for the establishment of Student Scholarship Organizations approved by the state to redirect tuition tax credits to approved students to attend approved schools in the state.  This is a wonderful program for a diverse population of children to have opportunities who otherwise would not have been available. It also saves taxpayer money. It is one of the best tax-credit programs in the nation. Let’s get the facts!

More tax money goes to education in Georgia than to any other budget expenditure.  Revenue sources for education include Georgia Income Tax, Sales Tax, Property Tax, SPLOST taxes and Lottery (tax on the poor). In 2016, Georgia spent $17,118,329,000 on primary and secondary education, which is $9,769 per student. That year, the state allocated $50,000,000 in tuition tax credits for students to attend approved private schools. This did not reduce the money that was allocated to public schools. Does anyone think that another $50,000,000 given to the public schools would have made a difference?

GOAL is the largest approved SSO organization in Georgia. Since 2008, GOAL has awarded scholarships to 13,528 students.  The average Annual Gross Income (AGI) adjusted for family size of these families was only $27,132. The majority of the scholarships went to families with an adjusted AGI below $24,000 per year. 55.3 percent of the scholarships went to students who identify as “Black/African American.” If you are a liberal and have a heart for social justice, this should thrill you. This is a program that levels the playing field and gives opportunities to lower income children that they otherwise would not have.

The average GOAL scholarship during this period was $3,722. Wrap your mind around that. Taxpayers used $3,722 of tax credits to save the expense of $9,769 to educate a student in the public schools. 

I believe we must have the best public schools possible and support the many amazing public school teachers. However, given the choice of totally funding a student at $9,769 or partially funding one at $3,722 is a no-brainer. The tax-credit program saves the state money. If all the private school kids and home school kids in our county enrolled in public schools, we would have to build more buildings and hire many more people. 

As a conservative and a taxpayer, I would love for our community to have strong private schools, Christian schools, and home school families. Our community sees the value of quality school options for our existing families and those families moving to our growing community. The entire community goes overboard to support public schools, independent schools (private and Christian) and homeschooling.  Troup County is better for this. We recognize that one-size does not fit all! 

Let’s talk about accountability now. Taxpayers use the tax-credit program to support schools that they believe are doing a great job. Taxpayers from Macon to Blue Ridge and from West Point to east of Atlanta support Lafayette Christian School in LaGrange with their tax credits. Funds flow to schools that individuals have confidence in. That is accountability. As taxpayers, we are not given the opportunity to direct our property tax to the schools that are doing a good job. Families have a choice to enroll their children in “free” public education or sacrifice to spend their hard-earned dollars to attend a school that they feel will better meet their child’s needs. Or, they sacrifice time and an income to homeschool their children because they think that is what is best for their child. I thank those parents and teachers for their sacrifice and for saving taxpayers money.

Mr. Yarbrough, you make a good point that input concerning the calendar question was sought from economists and the tourist industry, but not teachers. It seems that you like grass-roots input and local control. I think you would love private education! What could be more grass-roots and provide more local control than private education and homeschooling for those who choose it? 

The tax-credit program gives economically disadvantaged families, larger families and those with diverse backgrounds the opportunities that some might say are reserved for the elite.

Given the facts, liberals and conservatives should support the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization program that gives tax credits so parents can have educational choices when fulfilling their most important responsibility — raising and educating their children according to their needs, giftings, abilities and callings.

Superintendent, Lafayette Christian School