Georgia Republicans on Thursday shelved a plan to expand state voucher funding for private school tuition and homeschooling because they appeared to lack the votes to pass it in the House of Representatives after a long debate.
The House of Representatives voted 95-70 to pass the bill, meaning it could be considered again before the 2023 session ends on Wednesday. If not voted on this year, it could be considered again in 2024.
Still, the failure to pass the $6,500-per-student annual coupon came as a surprise after the measure appeared to be slowly heading toward passage in the House, which has historically been cooler on coupon legislation than the Senate.
Deputy Speaker of the House Jan Jones, a Republican from Milton, told lawmakers she had never supported a voucher bill before, but “times are moving.”
“Over these 20 years, it has become clear that there are some in our state and among our constituents, particularly after the COVID-19 crisis with several years of disruption, that want another option,” Jones said.
Republican Rep. Will Wade of Dawsonville, who is the parliamentary group leader driving legislation for Gov. Brian Kemp, told members that Kemp supported the bill. That could be a key factor in winning over the faltering Republicans, but it’s also likely a sign that supporters are struggling for every last vote to secure a majority.
“He really appreciates and supports this legislation because it provides the balance that this discussion needs,” Wade said of Kemp. “It gives parents a choice.”
Garrison Douglas, a spokesman for Kemp, declined further comment.
The Georgia push is part of a statewide GOP wave for what proponents are calling educational savings accounts in the wake of the pandemic and amid culture wars over what kids should learn in public schools.
Proponents argue that coupons for private school tuition, homeschooling supplies, therapy, tutoring, or even early college courses for seniors would help those in underperforming schools.
Opponents say they divert needed public school funds and subsidize institutions that discriminate against people who don’t share their social and religious views. They also argue that $6,500 would not get poor recipients enough to pay private school tuition.
“School vouchers are government-subsidized scholarships that differentiate private schools over public schools,” said Democratic Rep. Miriam Paris of Macon. “Instead of helping most families in Georgia, this is a gift to our wealthiest Georgians.”
Under the proposal, only children served by government schools that rank in the bottom 25% could benefit.
The legislature would determine the funding and therefore the number of beneficiaries each year. It would cost more than $110 million to have 1% of Georgia’s 1.75 million public school students participate.
Georgia already gives private school special education teacher vouchers and $120 million a year income tax credits to donors of private school scholarship funds.
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