Senators to Vote on Special Needs Private School Voucher Expansion
The Senate will vote Wednesday, March 3, on SB 47, which aims to expand the special needs voucher program to students who have Section 504 Plans or have one of about 20 conditions. PAGE has many concerns about the bill, including students’ loss of rights to services outlined in federal law. An analysis of SB 47 is available from PAGE here.
If you have concerns about SB 47, contact your senator now.
Tax Credit Voucher Program Slated for Expansion and Overdue Transparency
An extension of the $100 million cap on the tax credit private school voucher program, outlined in HB 517, was one of four bills the House Education Committee passed on March 2. Committee members also approved HB 545, which enables homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities in public schools. They completed their work by approving HB 589, regarding civics education, and HB 606 on accrediting agencies. All four bills now move to the House Rules Committee.
HB 517, sponsored by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), was originally intended only to address some of the flaws identified in the tax credit voucher program by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. The deficiencies highlighted by the department focus on the program’s lack of transparency in finances and operations. The bill would require the organizations that award vouchers, known as student scholarship organizations (SSO), to submit an annual independent audit verifying their compliance with state requirements including fund management, student eligibility, and school qualifications. The bill also would require SSOs to include investment income in their revenue to use for student vouchers.
Prompted by voucher proponent Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), the committee changed the bill to include an extension of the program’s $100 million tax credit cap. Currently the cap is set to be lowered to $58 million in 2028. With the committee’s changes, the cap would remain at $100 million through 2031.
HB 517 does not address the ongoing lack of transparency in voucher student outcomes, which PAGE highlighted in the report Pushing Public Dollars to Private Schools.
HB 545, also by Rep. Carson, would allow homeschool students to participate in extracurricular activities at the public schools for which they are zoned if the students enroll in at least one course—in-person, virtual, or through dual enrollment—at their local public schools. The bill is similar to SB 51 by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), which passed the Senate Education and Youth Committee. More information about HB 545 is available here.
HB 589 by Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville), named “The Georgia Civics Renewal Act,” would create a commission to review and make recommendations on civics education in the state. During the meeting, committee members added representatives from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association to the proposed commission. The bill is similar to SB 220, sponsored by Sen. Chuck Payne (R-Dalton), which passed the Senate Education and Youth Committee.
Rep. Randy Nix (R-LaGrange) authored HB 606, which would add the Georgia Independent Schools Association to the list of state-approved agencies that accredit schools