Report: Tax-funded private scholarships a ‘failed experiment’
By JIM WALLS
Many Georgia students have enrolled in public school in recent years without ever attending class, solely to take advantage of a 2008 state law creating tax-subsidized scholarships for pupils in private schools.
Legislators have described that practice as a legal but unintended consequence of the statute, which was purportedly intended to give children in failing public schools the chance for a private education that they otherwise couldn’t afford. But, in a report released today, critics charge the law creating so-called “student scholarship organizations” (SSOs) was crafted specifically to help pay for students to remain in private school.
A key sponsor of the bill, the Southern Education Foundation said, has admitted as much. At a December 2009 meeting, SEF’s report said, Rep. David Casas
told parents how Killian Hill Christian School in Gwinnett County had received $85,000 in SSO scholarships to help keep students in the private school — not to help new students transfer from public schools.
In addition, in a videotape of the same meeting … Rep. Casas informs private school parents that as a sponsor of the law he deliberately specified “enroll” instead of “attend” in HB1133 in order to ensure that the tax credit subsidies would support students already in private schools. Rep. Casas states:
“Some people felt a little bit weird about that; felt it was a little dishonest that they would take their child, enroll them in a public school and not have them actually attend, but all of a sudden they actually qualify for a scholarship. I’m telling you, we deliberately put the wording in there for that.”
Moreover, poor state oversight has allowed SSOs to operate without complying with basic requirements of the law authorizing them, the foundation’s report found:
- Five of the largest SSOs, required to spend at least 67.5 percent of their revenue on scholarships, distributed only 30 percent for that purpose.
- Eighteen organizations receiving scholarships – including day care centers, support groups for home schools and programs providing therapy for the developmentally disabled — did not appear to meet eligibility requirements for the funding.
- One SSO improperly limited scholarships to students of Greek descent, in violation of the state law and 1964 federal Civil Rights Act.
- Another SSO limited scholarships to students at one particular private school, violating state law.
The program, SEF vice president Steve Suitts said today, “has cost the taxpayers of Georgia $72 million for a program that isn’t working.”