CANTON — The Cherokee County Board of Education made official its opposition to pending legislation that would divert money from public schools to create “education scholarship” accounts for parents.
The board voted unanimously last week to adopt the Georgia Education Coalition’s 2020 legislative priorities, which include opposition to any state legislation that takes money away from local school districts in the form of vouchers or tax credits to pay for private school tuition and other educational programs.
School Board Chairwoman Kyla Cromer spoke against voucher bills, referencing the Georgia Educational Scholarship Act sponsored by state Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock.
House Bill 301 and Senate Bill 173 would use state general fund money allocated for local school districts to establish “education scholarship accounts” for parents to pay for expenses including private school and college tuition, textbooks and online courses. The bill was introduced in the House in February and has not yet come to a vote there; in the Senate, the bill failed to get majority votes in March.
“Any funding that is given to the voucher program comes out of our schools and that is public taxpayer money,” Cromer said. “Then, there is very little accountability or transparency about what that money is doing.”
Cromer said that in Georgia’s two existing school voucher programs — Georgia Special Needs Scholarship and the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program — the state government has difficulty tracking which schools receive the money and the performance of the students there.
Cantrell said in an email that the bill is designed to give parents options when their child isn’t succeeding in the public school assigned to them.
“The purpose of the bill is to provide educational choice for that small percentage of students who are not performing well in the public schools they are districted for. One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to education,” he said. “The Act would allow parents some flexibility in using their tax dollars for an educational program that could be more strategically designed for the specific needs of their child.”
He added that fraud would be “virtually impossible” because parents would apply for educational programs that pre-qualify with the state.
“The bill clearly outlines the strict financial accountability which is required to be eligible to participate in this program, and they are robust,” Cantrell said.
Cherokee County School district estimates that the new voucher proposal would cost the district more than $54 million over 10 years, and close to $2 billion statewide.