An underhanded ploy to bring vouchers to Georgia

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The Georgia Constitution states it clearly:

“The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia.”

Note the term “public education.” Taxpayers are not obligated to provide a private education but a public education. If you want a private education, you may certainly go get one. But the taxpayers of Georgia are under no obligation to pay for it.

Not yet, anyway.

As you may have noticed, the whole concept of public education is under a multi-pronged attack in this state. In its more subtle forms, you see it in Gov. Nathan Deal’s effort to strong-arm control of local schools away from local school boards, local communities and local taxpayers and instead invest that control entirely in his own office. Among other things, it would give the governor the power to bring in for-profit companies to run schools with no control at the local level.

Now, that approach might be worth debating if there was some indication that the governor’s office possessed some superior expertise, experience or insight into the operation of schools. I’ve seen no reason to think that, and no evidence of it has been provided. The fact that the proposal is being sold as “choice” is even more ludicrous, because once the governor is given that power, choice no longer exists. It is his choice, but no one else’s. And that power would devolve to not just this governor but to every governor yet to come.

Even more dangerous are bills introduced in both the state House and Senate to create what are euphemistically called “Education Savings Accounts.” They’re not savings accounts at all. Described honestly — which is something their backers try to avoid — these so-called ESAs are really taxpayer-funded vouchers to finance private-school education.

Under the two bills, HB 243 and SB 92, parents would be encouraged to withdraw their children from public schools with a taxpayer-provided cash subsidy, equal to the amount that the state would have spent on their education had they remained in the public system. Depending on the school district, the voucher would be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000 a year.

Under the proposals, the money would be put into an account and used by parents for any educational expense they deem worthy — private tuition, private tutoring, books, home schooling, field trips. If the family doesn’t need to spend it on those things, it can set aside taxpayer’s money that was ostensibly collected to finance K-12 education and instead use it to finance college. It could even be spent on things such as private music lessons. **

Think about that: We have schools in this state that haven’t been able to keep their doors open for 180 days a year; we have schools in which band and music programs have had to be slashed to the bone or even eliminated. And we’re going to divert state taxpayer money to finance private piano and violin lessons for private-school students whose parents would be paying for such things anyway?

The theory captured in the state constitution is that education of our children is our collective obligation, and that it ought to be discharged collectively. The theory of the voucher bills is quite different. It envisions government as little more than a glorified collection agency on behalf of affluent parents who deem public systems insufficient. The state will use its powers of taxation to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from workers, shoppers and businesses. The state will then hand that money to parents, to be spent as they see fit as if the money were their own.

This isn’t reform. This is abandonment.

Even more remarkably, the money would flow with no accountability, no standards, no nothing. We’ve had a lot of debate in recent years about the need to toughen education standards and to make sure that public schools produce educated citizens capable of competing in a global marketplace. We’ve also stressed the importance of improving the quality of certified Georgia teachers, including requiring them to take subject-matter tests and be more accountable for their performance. The state Senate this week even passed a resolution attempting to dictate the contents of Advanced Placement history courses taught around the country.

Yet these voucher bills abandon altogether the concepts of standards and accountability. Under HB 243, the complete extent of the state curriculum requirement is that private schools that receive vouchers teach “at least the subjects of English and language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.” It is absolutely silent on the content of those courses, on teacher qualifications in those schools, on textbook quality, on instructional days and any other issue.

Call me old-fashioned, but if the state is going to use its awesome powers to collect taxes from me, the state incurs an obligation to at least try to ensure that the money it has taken is spent as wisely as possible. If it’s the state’s responsibility to educate the children of Georgia, as our state constitution says, that responsibility cannot be fulfilled by simply handing parents a wadful of cash from taxpayers. It is not the parents’ money, no matter how many times conservative politicians try to pretend otherwise.

Look again to the constitution: It speaks of the state “provision” of an education, not merely the state “financing” of an education.

It’s fascinating to see this utter lack of interest in oversight of how public taxpayer dollars are spent coming from political leaders who in every other context insist on strict — in some cases absurdly strict — oversight of public dollars. They have tried to insist, for example, that welfare and food-stamp recipients be drug-tested as a condition of eligibility, to ensure that no tax money is wasted on them. Yet they are willing to literally give away private-school voucher dollars with almost no oversight in how they’re used?

It’s doubtful that either of these voucher bills will become law this legislative session, although thanks to powerful backers, HB 243 did win approval from the House Ways and Means Committee last week. But together with the governor’s proposals and the so-called tuition tax-credit program, they are important as the latest examples of a constant, never-ending effort to undermine public education in Georgia on behalf of a private model.

So let’s end the charade: If backers of voucher programs want to change the state constitution, put it to a vote. Let’s stop playing coy and stop trying to deny the true nature of this game being played. Let’s ask the people of Georgia, point blank, whether the state constitution should be altered to allow public tax money to be diverted to finance private school education. No more quiet little raids on the integrity of public education, stealing a little this way and a little that way. Put it to the people.

My bet is the answer from voters would be no. The supporters of voucher programs also believe the answer will be no, which is precisely why they continue to sneak and double-talk their way toward such a program rather than propose it directly.

Finally, while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the state of public education.

Since 2002, the ratio of Georgia public-school students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches has jumped from 45.1 percent to 62.4 percent. Among other things, that reflects our state’s ongoing economic challenges, but the change has also probably increased the desire of some of the remaining middle-class parents to withdraw from the public school system if possible. It’s a matter of class as much as if not more than a matter of race.

In addition, extensive research tells us that when poverty rises, educational challenges rise as well, and a poorer student body becomes more expensive to educate properly. Yet as Georgia’s public school population has become more poor, and thus more expensive to educate, inflation-adjusted spending per pupil has fallen in Georgia.

The state in particular now pays a significantly smaller share of the cost of educating children than it has historically. As recently as 2002, the state of Georgia covered 48.8 percent of the cost of K-12 education in the state, with local and federal governments contributing the rest. By 2012, according to the most recent Census data, the state’s contribution had fallen to 42.5 percent.

But you know what? Even with declining state support and an increasingly poor student body, the performance of Georgia students on national tests has steadily if slowly improved. While state leaders fall short of their own obligations to schools and condemn everyone else for the schools’ alleged failures, the system itself is making real progress.

Put another way, the last people who should be portraying themselves as the rescuers of Georgia’s constitutionally mandated public school system are those leaders at the Capitol who have failed year after year to meet their own obligations to that system.

—————-

** As another special little feature, HB 243 requires the state to “qualify private financial management firms to manage education savings accounts and … establish reasonable fees for such firms’ services.” The power to “qualify” such firms for what might be a pretty lucrative business would be granted to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, further concentrating an immense degree of unchecked control over education in the office of one elected official.

All in all, I’m not sure that legislators are fully cognizant of the degree of institutional control they are surrendering to the executive branch through such bills.

Reader Comments 0

441 comments
Betteforeducation
Betteforeducation

Thank you for this comprehensive run-down of what is happening in public education in Georgia.  I was struck by one comment which said that if we would fix what is wrong with public education, people wouldn't be crying out to go to private schools.  First, those who would privatize education have made a concerted effort to make public education sound like a complete failure.  But graduation rates are up and test scores (although not always the reliable measure of success) are also up.  Students go to our public schools and then go to UGA, Harvard, Stanford, and Georgia Tech.  Most of the failure is the failure to realize the effect poverty has on a child's ability to succeed in school.  So yes, we must address that issue and always be diligent in making our public schools the best they can be.  But doing away with public education, which is what these folks are aiming to do, is not the answer.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

For an example of accountability by republican education efforts, try to find information on any State Charter Commission schools. An example is Provost Academy, an online charter school with CCRPI ratings in the 30's (out of 100)  Provost receives over $10 million in tax payer funds. This state commissioned charter school outsources teacher jobs and  GA taxpayer funds to Edison learning, an out of state corporation. Provost salary information cannot be found on sites where traditional public school salary information is posted. The superintendents salary is not found on the state listing of superintendents pay. Payments to vendors are not listed as they are with traditional public schools.


So we have a failing state commissioned charter school that spends over $10 million of GA education funds and there seems to be no way to determine how those millions of $$ were spent.


Is this the accountability model that is planned for the OSD and the voucher system? 

1stTruthOMeter
1stTruthOMeter

I know about 5 little "rascals" that I want to drop off at a private school with voucher in hand. The stipulation will be they can not suspend or expel students should they exhibit challenging behavior. The private school teachers will have to come up with effective ways to work with these students. Now sit back and watch what happens.

Squirrel_Whisperer
Squirrel_Whisperer

Fix what's wrong with public education and there will be no need/excuse for vouchers or such. Parents who can afford private school will still have that option. Those who can't will still have access to a great education for their children. Period.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@Squirrel_Whisperer

A half century of liberal schemes and theories hasn't made one bit of difference in test scores. Nor will another half century of the same.

Voters finally understand that, even as Jay refuses to.

GB101
GB101

@Squirrel_Whisperer You talk about "people who can afford private school" as if there are no people who will struggle to pay both the taxes to support public schools they don't use and for the education they want their children to have.  

Citizen-of-the-World
Citizen-of-the-World

Thanks for the column on this, Jay. Scary, very scary what they are trying to do to education. Once again, take from the people who have little and give to the people who have plenty, undermining the fabric of our society in the process. When they do this, even people who think they're winning are really losing. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

One of the main reasons for requiring a marked increase in standardized testing for all students throughout the nation as part of George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" policy was to use those test scores to disparage public "government" schools and public school teachers for the purpose of dismantling public education in favor of market-based education for profit, in the opinion of many astute educators. 


I am not against standardized testing for individual diagnostic purposes regarding individual students, but to compare schools systems, individual schools and individual teachers with one another's level of competency, simply based on standardized test scores, is fallacious reasoning because every teacher, every school, and every school system will have a differing school population.  The only way to chart valid progress is to give the SAME student both a pretest and a post test on the same standardized test for the school year.  Varied IQs of students should also be a factor analyzed.  Students with lower IQs should not be expected to progress as rapidly as students with higher IQs.  Each should make progress according to his/her ability to do so.

josef
josef

@MaryElizabethSings 


Second paragraph:  your mouth to G-d's ears!  Though I do have reservations relative to the use of IQ tests for anything other than maybe MENSA application!  :-)

gotalife
gotalife

The gop attack on public education is winning. Their cuts to universities are winning too.


Just the facts.

alexander2
alexander2

@gotalife The "facts" are that most major universities will financially fail in the next 20 years because they have nonsustainable economic models and most students will find much less expensive and in some cases better education on line. 

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kamchak


oh man. That's two of Kyle's favorite topics falling prey to Jayconstruction in one day.

LeninTime
LeninTime

So Barack Obama, already at war on two continents, has now moved to escalate tensions with Venezuela, coming just short of a de facto declaration of war with it. 

I know it makes for absolutely AWFUL lib-con food fight material, but isn't anyone here a little interested in this? 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@LeninTime Got a link to the war with Venezuela situation?  

I knew the US had an issue with the former head of Venezuela, but thought the current leader was less anti-American in views. (I could be wrong on that.) 

Thanks in advance. 

honested
honested

@LeninTime 

Until the owners of Venezuela are put back into their 'rightful' position of control, the United States will continue to participate in destabilization there.


gotalife
gotalife

So mccain said they committed treason because snow was coming.


And they will get away with it.


This is American politics.

Ralph-43
Ralph-43

More worshipping at the Golden Calf plus toss in resegregation of the schools - this is the neo-Confederates dream.

ALibNotToBeMessedW/
ALibNotToBeMessedW/

In light of The Letter, I feel compelled to ask: why is it that Republicans are now palling around with terrorists? 

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Don't mess with this lib It's not about terrorists, it's about Obama.  The dislike for Obama somehow runs SO deep, they are willing to risk national ridicule. 

If Obama said that air is necessary for life, and you should get your daily supply, Republicans would revolt and hold their breath. 

SeriouslyFolks
SeriouslyFolks

So let me get this straight......

Cons in the Legislature think giving "vouchers" (ie SUBSIDIES) for "middle class" folks to purchase customized education for their kids is the cats meow....

Yet, allowing poor folks to purchase "subsidies" for purchasing health insurance is somehow akin to eroding our "FREEDOM!!!"

Wow.

SeriouslyFolks
SeriouslyFolks

@LogicalDude @SeriouslyFolks I am for citizens having access to the best possible _________ !  (health care, education, roads, jobs, etc.)

If it involves subsidies, fine.  But as Jay pointed out, if you bleed out an animal, then say, do you still want it??  Chances are, people would choose otherwise....

gotalife
gotalife

They want to end public education.


But go ahead and make yourselves feel better with that we are better than that crap while they do it.



Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@gotalife

They want to end public education.

not true. They just want it small enough so that it, potentially, can be drowned in a bathtub.

Respect the distinction.

alexander2
alexander2

@Visual_Cortex @gotalife Yea, let's "drown public education in a bathtub, hmm thats quite an analogy..let's see should the water be lukewarm, now where are the bubbles......Im not quite up to snuff today , but I do appreciate all the humorous comments form gota and lenin (chairs--you cracked me up)and the cortex person, after all humor is the best medicine , and you guys are so good, you'll never get sick......(after the stent...)

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

Jay "no Accountability"


Over at Kyle's, he says that Louisiana had rules that made the "recovery districts" have more accountability.   He didn't go into detail about what was accountable or not, but it sounded like there were steps Louisiana took to ensure progress. 


Isn't Georgia trying to replicate Louisiana's "recovery districts"? 


Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@SimpleTruths @LogicalDude

trust them!  Just like Hillary

Forgive me if I regard whether someone getting to choose whether it was State dept. or personal biz email is perhaps a little less important to me and mine, than having money for my kid's school district funneled away to some privateer's grifting scheme.

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

It doesn't matter what you call them - or who you call what, or who used to be called what. That's just weasels using weasel words to be weasels.

IT MATTERS WHO THEY ARE NOW.

They are the Georgia Republicans. NOW.

While this stupid ignorant quest to be the most backward place on earth is being glorified.

The Enemy has been identified.

How much is enough, people?

SFM_Scootter
SFM_Scootter

@St_Simons_he-ne-ha Will it make you happy if they go back to having a "D" behind their names? That seems to be what you are advocating.(at least in my mind anyway)

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

@SFM_Scootter @St_Simons_he-ne-ha you're not being clever, and you're not weaseling out of the fact that NOW Georgia Republicans are NOW advocating, pushing, paying off, strangling public education - now matter how you try to weasel out of it. No one has EVER been this craven and sociopathic in their quest for public ignorance as this iteration of Georgia Republican.

SFM_Scootter
SFM_Scootter

@St_Simons_he-ne-ha @SFM_Scootter I guess I should have put a (serious question) behind my question because I wasn't trying to be clever or weasel out of anything.I'm also going to guess that you are just another one of the geniuses here who aren't quite as smart as they think they are. 

St Simons he-ne-ha
St Simons he-ne-ha

"promote the general welfare, and hence, secure the blessings of liberty, for ourselves and our posterity..."


more treason

How much is enough, people?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

No matter what I do (or which computer and internet connection I do it from), I cannot get my picture to show.

Just curious--did you remember to click the "save" button at the very bottom of that Profile menu, after you'd picked a pic?


ALibNotToBeMessedW/
ALibNotToBeMessedW/

@Visual_Cortex

Yes, I've clicked it multiple times.


I've prayed.  I've done penance (and I'm Jewish, so it wasn't easy).  I went to confession (again, as Jew, this was very much out of my comfort zone).  I've resolved to vote Republican.  I've resolved to vote for Tea  Party wing nuts.  I've resolved to vote for Dems.  I've resolved to find Dems as wacky as the Tea Party wingntus, and mission though it was, I found some and resolved to vote for them.  I swore I'd never go to Kyle's.  Then I swore that I'd never come to Jay's.  Then I swore I'd never come to either place.


And after all that, I'm still stuck with this generic fargin boolshite avatar.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Don't mess with this lib @Visual_Cortex

I went to confession (again, as Jew, this was very much out of my comfort zone)

You just can't quit us.

But seriously, sorry to hear. I'm inclined not to change mine any time soon, even though mine's pretty illegible.