Public education advocates battle latest private school scheme

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, March 21, 2019

Dear Georgia Public Schoolteachers:

I have some good news and some maybe not-so-good news. First, the good news: After years of eye-pokes by the voucher-loving Kool-Aid drinkers in the General Assembly, you seem to have finally found your voice and as a result, one of the most egregious anti-public school voucher bills in recent memory was defeated in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 173 would use taxpayer money — and lots of it — to allow students to walk away from public schools and attend private schools or be home-schooled.

The measure would suck hundreds of millions of dollars from our public schools. An analysis of a similar bill in the House by the state auditor’s office estimated the program would siphon off $48 million tax dollars in its first year and could reach over $500 million in a decade.

Now, the maybe not-so-good news: Our new governor and lieutenant governor seem not to have gotten the message. There is an effort underway to resurrect the bill and focus on special needs students and the economically disadvantaged. Sounds noble, doesn’t it? Hold on. This is the legislative equivalent of the camel’s nose under the tent. Get these provisions first and then add the other stuff later to an existing law, maybe piece by piece. Cute, eh?

As you know, but perhaps our leaders have forgotten, there are already provisions for scholarships for special needs students attending Georgia public schools, a school choice program that has been around since 2007.

And, of course, we have a private school voucher program that lets taxpayers contribute money to designated private schools through nonprofit organizations — called School Scholarship Organizations — and then get their money back via a tax credit. That would supposedly help the economically disadvantaged, but there is no evidence it has. Thanks to the Voucher King, Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, the amount of money for this scheme was increased to $100 million last session. But the hits just keep on coming.

This latest private school voucher scheme is courtesy of Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, who is barely 30 days into his first term in the Senate. Thirty days? I doubt he has even located the commissary yet and already he is an expert on all that is wrong with public education. Might as well start them young.

Dolezal represents Forsyth County, one of the most affluent counties in the nation with one of the best school systems. When you hear the guy and his fellow ideologues bleat about “failing schools,” chances are Forsyth County won’t come up in the conversation.

But he has had help. In addition to Dolezal, co-sponsors on the bill were Sens. John Albers, R-Roswell; Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome; Burt Jones, R-Jackson; Jesse Stone, R-Waynesboro and Brian Strickland, R-McDonough. Please file their names away and when they come to you next year seeking reelection and telling you how they support public education because their momma/cousin/sister/whoever was a schoolteacher, throw up on their shoes.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Speaker David Ralston and Ways and Means Chairman Brett Harrell, R-Snellville, have kept an identical bill buried in committee. Kudos to them both.

It seems the organizations that represent you in Atlanta — deridingly referred to as “educrats” by voucher proponents — have gotten their act together and are presenting a united front on your behalf. Too often in the past, they have been turf-conscious and loath to cooperate with each other. But not this time. Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction.

Maybe one day we can get our intrepid public servants to quit talking about “failing schools” and begin talking about their responsibilities in fixing the problems you confront daily, instead of running away from them.

Maybe they will deign to ask for your input since you know better than anyone just what those problems are. Of course, our legislators ignored you in the recent Senate study on school start dates, so don’t expect them to be knocking on your door anytime soon.

As I have said before, I don’t know how you put up with this stuff, but bless you for doing it. You are making a difference in young lives while being undercut and criticized by a bunch of yahoos who couldn’t carry your bookbag.

Hopefully, this latest attack on public education won’t see the light of day but as that noted philosopher Yogi Berra once observed, “It ain’t over til it’s over.” Bad grammar but good advice. Keep up the fight. I will be right there with you.