Legislature advances OSD-lite bill and more tax credits for private school scholarships

The governor is scheduled to sign 10 education bills Thursday, but campus carry is not on the list. (AJC Photo.)

In its countdown mode, the Legislature advanced several education bills Monday, although few will likely engender meaningful reform. The General Assembly’s machinations tend to tweak at the edges, impose more reporting requirements and create new bureaucracy.

House Bill 338 does the latter; the OSD Lite bill passed out of Senate Education and Youth Committee largely intact but still with no new money to accompany the new chief turnaround officer when she or he shows up to help struggling schools.

Almost all the schools on the state failing list – a list that will now under a Senate change be defined by a state Department of Education scale rather than the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement – are struggling because their students are poor and there aren’t enough resources to meet their many needs.

Among other Senate changes to HB 338:

•A targeted school has more time to show improvement before drastic state interventions kick in. Under the House version, the state could hand low performers to nonprofit managers or convert them to charter schools after two years, but the bill now requires three years.

•The legislation clearly bans for-profit companies from taking over any schools that the state eventually controls.

What did not change and should have: The new position of chief turnaround officer still reports to the state board of education, which is appointed by the governor.

Elected state School Superintendent Richard Woods argued it make more sense for the CTO to answer to him — it does – but politics trumped logic. The outsider status of the CTO may increase her or his autonomy, but it also causes a gulf between the CTO and the resources of DOE that could help schools. And the CTO will need to tap DOE expertise as there’s not a lot of cash to hire others, although a proposed tax credit could pump a few million into turnaround efforts.

As the AJC’s Ty Tagami reported today:

The Senate version also clarifies that school districts, after creating a “turnaround plan” with the chief turnaround officer, must pay for implementation, unless they can demonstrate financial need. The legislation is silent on where money would come from to help districts, but Tanner said Deal is committed to funding the measure. Also, a separate bill establishing a tax credit program for public school “innovation” grants, House Bill 237, passed out of the Senate Finance Committee Monday on a 7-6 vote. It was amended to an annual cap of $5 million, down from the $7 million in the original bill, and set to end after three years.

At the same time, it reduced the tax credit cap for public schools, the Senate endorsed an increase in the existing tax credit for private school scholarships, from a cap of $58 million a year to  $65 million in the latest version of House Bill 217.

The tax credits have helped thousands of children attend private schools — 13,555 in 2015 alone, and in recent years the maximum contribution level has been reached on the first day of availability. But there are nearly 1.8 million public school students in Georgia, and critics of the tax credits say they divert money available for other government spending, such as support of public schools. Schools get $166 million less than they should under the state education funding formula.

Some also criticize the level of transparency with the program and even its legality. Georgia taxpayers sued in Fulton County Superior Court in 2014, alleging it is unconstitutional to spend state tax dollars on the program because some schools that receive money are religious, in apparent violation of the constitutional mandate for the separation of church and state. The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in January and is expected to issue a decision sometime this year.

One member of the Senate Finance Committee told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he thinks the program is unconstitutional, and a majority of senators at Monday’s hearing had another concern: the amount of the fees kept by the private organizations that administer it.

Taxpayers pledge money — up to $1,000 for an individual, $2,500 per married couple and $10,000 for shareholders or owners of businesses (except “C” corporations, which can contribute up to three-quarters of their state tax debt) — to specific private schools and get a tax credit for the amount. The money passes through nonprofit scholarship organizations, which assign it to students. These organizations can keep up to 10 percent as fees. “This room wouldn’t be full if people weren’t making money,” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, at Monday’s packed hearing. “There are people making money off of this.”

 

Reader Comments 0

15 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Most of you are missing the point.

Public school is a public service provided by the taxpayer through a state mechanism. Other examples are state law enforcement, state courts, state health, state DOT, state parks, GEMA, etc.


I don't like state provided A__ , you don't use this service and I want to take your tax money(as a tax credit) and pay for private B____. 

A. Public Parks B. Private Gym, country club, fishing boat.

A. Public Roads  B. Private driveway

A. Public law enforcement B. Private security service

A. Public Libraries B. Private Netflix

A. Public Emergency mgmt. B. Private generator

You get the idea - Why are you so called "conservatives" such lazy, poorly prepared parents that you want to mooch off everyone else because of you failure to provide properly for your children? Also, why do you worship the rich?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

And when that written-off tax money goes to private schools, you and I pull more of the weight in funding roads, prisons, clinics, and everything else.  Does that seem fair?


And how about accountability?  Is there any?  Wouldn't it be nice to see who participates in the write-off and where their children or grandchildren go to school?  Of course, it would be coincidence.


It is widely known (they advertised it for awhile) that a local public school provides those scholarships so grandparents can use the write off to fund private school for their grandchildren, who just "happen" to get the scholarships.


Georgia, and its "support" for education.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady I don't like paying taxes to replace tax exemptions for other people's religion. That's unfair.

Astropig
Astropig

Rich people pay for their kids private school tuition.They also pay local property taxes,sometimes on multiple properties that are investments,second homes,etc. and thus pay for other families' kids public education without imposing the cost of their kid filling a seat.

Astropig
Astropig

@jasodafot This is great news,but I wish that the initial proposal to expand the scholarship fund geometrically had survived.Maybe next year.


That money is never paid to the state.It is donated to an independent entity,thus the eduacracy has absolutely no right to it-full stop.These scholarship programs (there are several around the country) have survived court attacks by the status quo numerous times.They were written to be legally permissable. The attacks on them are mainly from educrats that can't figure out how to un-do them.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @jasodafot But it also means that Jane Taxpayer does not have to give an equal amount of donation to the General Fund which means local school districts have to make up the costs of funding school operations - cuts to insurance for school bus drivers and cafeteria staff wouldn't have been necessary if We The People had the funds to pay the employer portion of the premiums. Instead, school years were reduced, staff was furloughed, and children suffered in the name of scholarships for those who probably didn't need them in the first place.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Each family in GA pays an average of $20 per year in extra taxes to make up for the tax credit the mostly wealthy use to pay for private school tuition. There is no academic or financial accountability for this program or the SSO's that skim the money off the top.


The state taxes all of us more to pay for rich folk's private school tuition. Do you like being forced to pay private school tuition for millionaires?

gapeach101
gapeach101

@Starik @EastAtlanta OR, the upper middle class could keep their kids in the public schools and make them better.  See the APS schools in the northern arc of the city as a guide.

Starik
Starik

@EastAtlanta If we had better public schools the upper middle class could keep their kids in them.

Enoch19
Enoch19

@AvgGeorgian So all these "rich folks" pay to have thier kids in private school and save the taxpayers the cash for educating their kids?  Average Georgian is so worried about being taken advantage of that fixing the public schools is not even on his radar.It seems he only cares about the politics and not the kids.