Ga.’s private-school scholarship program is a mess

130908_students_classroom_ap_328It’s odd to hear conservatives argue that even though a public giveaway program is inefficient and unaccountable, it ought to be expanded because it is popular. Yet that’s the argument they’re making.

The program in question is Georgia’s private-school scholarship program. It allows corporate and individual taxpayers to pay a dollar less in state taxes for every dollar that they donate to a private-school scholarship organization. If you donate $2,000 to such an outfit, for example, you pay $2,000 less in state taxes.

In 2015, the state capped that program at $58 million, and that cap was reached on January 1. Citing its popularity, supporters of the program are now pushing to almost double that cap to $100 million.

I have some questions:

— Under Georgia law, operators of scholarship organizations can keep 10 percent of donations to cover administrative costs, such as their own salaries. Yet in Alabama, the cap is 5 percent. In Louisiana and South Carolina, it’s also 5 percent. In Florida, it’s 3 percent. Why are Georgia’s scholarship organizations two or three times more inefficient, or to put it another way, two or three times more lucrative for those running them? Are they two or three times better connected politically?

— The tax-credit program has long been sold as a way to help lower-income students escape under-performing public schools. For that reason, most states have set strict income limits for eligibility for such programs. Georgia has not. Even worse, we lack even basic demographic information about who’s getting the subsidy — how many are needy, and how many are middle- and upper-class families who would send their kids to private school anyway? We don’t know because we’re not allowed to know; state law forbids collection of that data. (See update below).

— Is it working? At the insistence of state legislators, every public school in Georgia gets graded on the performance of its students, with results posted prominently on the website of the state Department of Education. That’s fine. When you take public money, you should be accountable to the public.

But if we’re going to almost double funding of this private-school scholarship program, shouldn’t we have at least a minimal idea of what we are getting? Like, what’s the graduation rate of the students involved? Are educational outcomes improved?

We don’t know, and we choose not to know. Alabama requires standardized testing of private-school students with state-subsidized tuition; it posts results and graduation rates from each private school on a state website. Florida also requires standardized testing in participating private schools, as do South Carolina, Indiana, Arizona and most other states.

Georgia requires nothing. Some schools may be doing a great job; others may be failing their students miserably. We don’t know, yet in our blindness we’re supposed to almost double the amount of state money they’re getting? How is that good governance?

— The notion that none of the above matters because the $58 million or $100 million in question isn’t really taxpayer money is a blatant dodge. If the scholarship program did not exist, that $58 million would be going into state coffers where it would be available to hire more state troopers, help keep rural hospitals open or keep teachers in public classrooms. That $58 million is being generated solely through the state’s power to compel payment of taxes, and if somebody tries to claim otherwise, they are not engaging in honest debate.

Clearly, a lot of the enthusiasm for Georgia’s program is ideologically driven. While I don’t share that ideology, I get it. However, ideology should not blind you to the fact that Georgia’s law is badly drafted and badly drafted on purpose. It has created a grossly inefficient program with no accountability or transparency, and it’s irresponsible to demand its expansion until those problems are addressed.

—————————–

UPDATE: In comments on his own column on this subject, my colleague Kyle Wingfield points us to useful data compiled by the state Department of Revenue regarding income levels of scholarship recipients.

The DOR data are broken down by quartiles: How many scholarships went to families in the lowest-earning quarter of Georgia households, how many went to families in the second-lowest quartile, etc.  Not surprisingly, the data tell us that some student scholarship organizations truly are attempting to help lower-income students attend private schools, while others appear to be pass-through mechanisms for upper-middle and upper-income households.

For example, the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Organization, the largest in the state, granted scholarships to 920 families in the lowest-earning quartile in 2013 and to another 1,397 families in the second-lowest quartile. It also issued 1,232 scholarships to families in the third quartile, and 127 scholarships to families in the top-earning quartile.

That’s not bad, although GOAL still issued more than 1,300 scholarships to families making more than the statewide average. But by comparison with other SSOs, its performance looks sterling:

  • The Peach State Christian Scholarship Fund gave no scholarships to poor families, but 28 scholarships to families in the highest-earning quartile.
  • Vision SSO gave no scholarships to poor families, but 49 to families in the highest-earning quartile.
  • Georgia Tuition Aid Providers Inc. gave scholarships to two families in the poorest quartile; it gave scholarships to 70 families in the highest quartile.
  • An agency called “A Pay It Forward Scholarship” issued 18 scholarships to families in the lowest-earning quartile, and 419 scholarships to families in the highest-earning quartile.
  • The ALEF Fund issued 12 scholarships to families in the lowest bracket, but 158 to families in the highest bracket.
  • Faith First Georgia, which lists state Rep. Earl Ehrhart as its chief executive officer, granted 35 scholarships to low-earning families and 173 to those in the highest-earning quartile. (Ehrhart has been a chief proponent of expanding the program.)
  • The Georgia Student Scholarship Organization granted scholarship to 42 families in the lowest income quartile. It gave scholarships to 684 families in the highest quartile.

If you do the math, in 2013 a total of 1,706 scholarships were granted to families in the lowest income quartile, while 2,248 were granted to families in the highest income quartile.

Again, I see no public purpose in diverting state tax dollars to helping upper-income Georgians send their children to private schools.

 

Reader Comments 0

860 comments
BigTimeJacketFan
BigTimeJacketFan

Need to start with why all these folks are clamoring for private schools, home schooling, etc.  If you could learn reading, writing, and arithmetic in the public schools without all the liberal indoctrination and brainwashing, probably a lot of folks would bypass the private school tuition.  Unfortunately, that is not possible today.


Whatever the waste may be in this program, compare that amount to approximately half the amount spent on public education in this state (probable minimum waste amount).  Pales in comparison.

_GodlessHeathen_
_GodlessHeathen_

"Bill Cosby accuser's lawyer: LAPD should issue a search warrant for Playboy Mansion surveillance tapes"

Damn right.  And if they need any help reviewing hundreds of hours of tapes, the Heathen can be available.

Numbers_R_Us
Numbers_R_Us

I think it only fair to allow lottery players to get a tax credit for every dollar they spend.  Of course, they still have to also pay taxes on any winnings.

The Doom
The Doom

@Numbers_R_Us


Soooo. If a binnessman has a $10,000 tax liability he could spend $10,000 on lottery tickets and erase his tax liability through dollar for dollar tax credits. And obviously he would win on some of those tickets. Lets say he wins and takes home $8,000 and pays oh, I dunno, $3,000 in taxes off of that. He's still $5,000 ahead of the game. Doesn't look like you thought this through. 

The Doom
The Doom

@GaBlue


Life is not fair GaBlue. And your mental picture of the son of an oil exec never having to work a day in his life is pure nonsense. I've dealt with a lot of wealthy people in my life. Many of them have kids that are productive, hard working, and don't expect daddy to pay their way their entire freaking lives. Sure, some are just lazy bums who've learned to mooch off wealthy parents. But they'll suffer for it later. You need not worry about it. 


And it also appears you haven't looked indepth at the luxury tax. Part of the repeal efforts of the tax were because a lot of family businesses- farms, small businesses, could be lost because the kids inheriting the farm or business would have to sell or shut down the business or farm just to pay the taxes. That doesn't do any of them nor their employees who work at the farm or business any good. 

Numbers_R_Us
Numbers_R_Us

The only one not thinking is you, Thulsa, as usual. Now run along and hump someone else's leg like a good little insurance sales boy.

GaBlue
GaBlue

@Numbers_R_Us

Funny about lottery winnings, huh? If a janitor from a poor family wins $5mil in the lottery, he has to pay a HUGE chunk in taxes. But some lucky stiff who wins the genetic lottery is born to an oil executive and never has to work a day in his life, conservatives holler to exempt him from the dreaded "death tax."  Doesn't make sense to me. Why would one jackpot be taxed, but not the other?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

did you bother to fund one of these scholarships with your money

Aaaand having run out of bullets, the hapless schlub then tosses his revolver at the monster...

The Doom
The Doom

"Well, now you are ascribing motives to me and "putting words in my mouth" in the manner alleged by you of Doom et alia."


Tuna did that often in his previous blogging life and was quick to accuse others of intentionally "misrepresenting" his position when in fact someone may have simply inferred incorrectly or misinterpreted what he had to say. And then Tuna would do the same thing himself. Just a constructive criticism Tuna. You do it, I do it, we all do it where we may infer or misinterpret each other inaccurately. It doesn't justify accusations of intentional misrepresentation. Going forward hopefully if we have misunderstandings we can simply clarify each other's meanings and then move forward. 

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Dynasty "Tuna did that often in his previous blogging life and was quick to accuse others of intentionally "misrepresenting" his position when in fact someone may have simply inferred incorrectly or misinterpreted what he had to say."


And when confronted on it, Doom did then as he still does -- doubles down on his erroneous claims and assertions, just as Catpain Oblivious does.


"And then Tuna would do the same thing himself. Just a constructive criticism Tuna."


Shrug.  I've gone to great pains to point out when I'm articulating my *opinion,* whereas you and the Catpain do not.


"You do it, I do it, we all do it where we may infer or misinterpret each other inaccurately. It doesn't justify accusations of intentional misrepresentation."


Remind me why you recently took a blog vacation?


"Going forward hopefully if we have misunderstandings we can simply clarify each other's meanings and then move forward."


If you're sincere, then I hope to see evidence of that very behavior from you quite soon.  Aside from the missed opportunity I'm about to detail in the next sentence.


And just FYI, there's no "previous blogging life" with me, as I've told you before.


Bruno2
Bruno2

@Tuna Meowt @Dynasty Tuna--Not continuing the disagreement here, but I hope that you will simply restate your position to me if I ever unintentionally misrepresent your intent.  We'll save a lot of time that way.......

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Bruno2 @Tuna Meowt @Dynasty I appreciate that, Bruno.


I also appreciate how Penses has been willing to back off of his misapprehensions when I've pointed out that what I think doesn't match up with what he *thinks* I think.


Catpain Oblivious could learn a lot from Penses in that regard.


Bruno2
Bruno2

@Tuna Meowt @Bruno2 @Dynasty Can't speak for the Captain or any of the other posters who feel they have to include an insult with every post, but I'm guessing that many here use the blog as a dumping ground for their life's frustrations.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

Why would low income parents want to send their kids to private schools since they are so uber-successful in our public schools????

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

Late to this observation, but having re-read this:

If you donate $2,000 to such an outfit, for example, you pay $2,000 less in state taxes.

...mein Gott, we have some morons running this state.

The Doom
The Doom

@stands_for_decibels


Perhaps you can enlighten us as to what specifically is so moronic about this policy. Go ahead. And be specific sir. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Dynasty @stands_for_decibels

Offering southern-fried religious righties the chance to get a dollar-for-dollar tax writeoff to fund their radical clerics' book-larnin' institutions is about as responsible as giving your 16 year old a case of Jack Daniels and keys to somebody else's Ferrari.

IMHO. YMMV. 

Happy to help.

/headin' upstairs.

MiltonMan
MiltonMan

You libs don't like it - vote out the neo-cons but first you got to nominate someone electable.


FYI:  The likes of Roy Barnes, Jim Martin, Jason Carter, Big Boy Mark Taylor - they are not electable/re-electable.

fedup52
fedup52

@MiltonMan  You want to keep your neo-cons in power. 


It is your and my money they are stealing.  I guess it is ok with you.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Penses @Tuna Meowt @fedup52 "Well, now you are ascribing motives to me and "putting words in my mouth" in the manner alleged by you of Doom et alia."


No, I'm not.  I quite clearly told you what I *think,* but I could certainly be wrong in that, however.  I've got as much right as anyone to articulate what I think, and you've got every right to correct me if I'm wrong.


But I notice that you didn't do that.  ;)


The Doom
The Doom

"Preach it to the folks on your side of the fence.  Today I have been called a variety of names by so called "Christian".-fedup52


fedup52,


Perhaps you can show us where all these self professed "Christians" today have called you "a variety of names".


Because I scrolled to the bottom of the page and didn't see one. So I'ld be real curious to see all these various instances of the con "Christians" on here calling you names. And if you can find any, let alone several of these "variety of names" you were called can you honestly say that you didn't call anyone else a name or that you didn't act rudely to others?


I patiently await evidence of these "variety of names" you were called today by the blog self professed "Christians". 


fedup52
fedup52

@Dynasty  Dumb for example is an insult since the person does not know me.

The Doom
The Doom

@fedup52


And which self professed Christian called you dumb today. And not to get into a semantics battle but you stated that several of these people called you "a variety of names". Saying that someone's idea or post or statement is dumb is a bit different then calling someone a name. Nevertheless I'll wait for you to post these "varieties of names" that you claim that the self professed Christians on this blog called you today. 


Still waiting..

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

The figures reflect the low income percentile included but not the 

low income percentile turned away. I think that a lack of low income

percentile applicants would present the same type numbers.

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

The fact that you had to update your column on the most basic of information is proof that you were simply spouting off at the mouth (or pen) to begin with.

Comical

Shameful, but, comical.

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@DownInAlbany 

Do you suggest that, having found the additional information, he should not have shared it?

fedup52
fedup52

@DownInAlbany  He did not contradict himself in the update.  Updating is a sign he is trying his best to give us the full picture and not hide anything.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@fedup52 @DownInAlbany

Keep in mind, for a conservative mostly exposed to strident right wing media that almost never acknowledges errors or issues corrections, this update from Jay almost has to be seen as some kind of weakness.

Real men don't admit that they don't know everything! Or something like that.

Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

"The sickening part about this is that Jay and the Dem establishment continue to thwart what many of these parents and kids truly want"

Hey, Jay!  Did you know you had that much power?

The Doom
The Doom

@Doggone_GA


Jay has a public forum such as the AJC to write negatively towards school choice and charter schools. Thus he has at least some influence on the debate. 


Of course it is kinda funny to think that you and the other progs may have such lowly views of Jay's influence. 

GaBlue
GaBlue

@Dynasty

Your point presumes that the legislators who make these decisions actually give a rat's fuzzy about what the readers of a public forum think. HELLO? They vote the way their handlers at A.L.E.C. and their corporate sponsors tell them to vote. They download their talking points and sell their already-established agenda to whatever constituents they bother to meet with, every now and then. They don't give a nugget about what Mr. Bookman or his readers think!

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

The private scholarship program is in effect now. Making it transparent and efficient

should be pursued. Parents should be satisfied with the education they pay for.

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

" As I note in the update, in 2013 the number of high-income recipients was considerably greater than the number of low-income recipients."


Just curious, Bookman, but with your concern for low income students, did you bother to fund one of these scholarships with your money?  Or like most liberals do you just not care THAT much?

Nick_Danger
Nick_Danger

@fiftythreepercenter 

Since the discussion is about government policies, his personal business is none of yours.  Your assumption that you have the right to question the private lives of others is unseemly.

LeninTime
LeninTime

@fiftythreepercenter

Bookman, but with your concern for low income students, did you bother to fund one of these scholarships with your money?  Or like most liberals do you just not care THAT much?

***
Ah yes, the "charity" dodge again.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@fiftythreepercenter @LeninTime

We've had at this many, many times in the past.

Mostly it entails conservatives claiming some great advantage in the charity contribution game, which upon closer examination reveals that they tend to give a lot... to their own churches.

The Doom
The Doom

@Nick_Danger


Reminds me of progs who think they have a right to know about the personal business or earnings of wealthy people and how much they are paying in taxes.