Georgia is a great state to live. It has been recognized as the best state to do business for nine consecutive years. With some outliers, our communities are safe. And, as Gov. Brian Kemp’s handling of COVID showed, Georgians’ liberties are respected and protected. But, while strides have been made, public education is an area that can be improved.
Georgia ranks in the middle of the pack in standardize testing, ranking 27 out of 50 in the national SAT average. Georgia is behind on public school funding where the national average spent per student is $16,000 and Georgia spends $13,000 per student. And Georgia student scores, particularly in math, have declined.
As with any complex problem, there is not a single, simple solution to Georgia’s public education woes. One solution that could make a positive difference, though, is school choice. School choice varies in form but, in essence, allows families– instead of the government– to choose their child’s school. This choice can be accomplished through a voucher or tax credit program. This credit can be used to educate a child at a public school, charter school, private school or home school of the family’s choice.
Giving families this choice injects competition into the public education system. If a school is underperforming, it will receive less revenue, therefore requiring it to change to meet market demands. Even more, if a school is teaching ideologies that are deemed undesirable by families, then it will likewise lose revenue. School choice holds schools accountable and forces them to provide high quality and price conscious education.
Last legislative session, the General Assembly considered a bill embodying the concepts of school choice. The Georgia Educational Freedom Act provided for a $6,000 scholarship to nearly all of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students, from kindergarten through 12th grade. This scholarship could be used by Georgia families to select the school of their choice. Funding was allowed to follow the child, not the system, and a child’s education was not chained to their zip code.
School choice legislation has been passed in 21 states. Indeed, just in 2021, 18 states expanded or adopted school choice legislation. Montana raised the per-donor tax credit cap for scholarship program from $150 to $200,000. West Virginia adopted education savings account programs for all students. And Florida expanded voucher, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings account programs. States continued that momentum in 2022, with Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska passing varying forms of school choice legislation.
While school choice brings great opportunity, conditions for qualification must exist. For example, the Federation for American Immigration Reform says that any school choice legislation should include common sense language limiting eligibility to only U.S. citizens and green card holders. Such a requirement makes sense as only taxpaying U.S. citizens should benefit from the system that they are paying into. Allowing non-payors to have equal receipt of benefits creates a recipe for financial disaster.
America is the greatest country on earth, in part, because we welcome competition which drives innovation, improves quality and reduces costs. Government does the opposite, driving complacency, increasing inefficiencies and, often, reducing quality. America’s future depends on our kids. We owe it to them to ensure our education is the best that we can offer. To do so, we must place the choice of education in the hands of parents, creating a free market system in education and liberating families across Georgia from the restraints of geography, ideology and finances that exist in our current public education system.
Ronald Reagan said it best: “[C]hoice in education is no mere abstraction. Like its economic cousin, free enterprise, and its political cousin, democracy, it affords hope and opportunity.” Georgia should join the growing movement of states that are empowering families with educational freedom by passing school choice legislation. This would be one of the most consequential pieces of legislation to improve education in Georgia and would have an enduring impact.
Let’s hope that the General Assembly will do it in 2023.
Jake Evans is the founder & chairman of Trailblazer Rising, Inc.