Tuesday, May 22, 2012

NYT: Georgia scholarship program allows public cash to help fund private schools

Posted By on Tue, May 22, 2012 at 1:57 PM

The New York Times' kicks ass today with a very long, very good story about a scholarship program operating in eight states, including Georgia, that allows public cash to flow to private schools. Some background, courtesy of the Times' Stephanie Saul:

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy.

The program would be supported by donations to nonprofit scholarship groups, and Georgians who contributed would receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits, up to $2,500 a couple. The intent was that money otherwise due to the Georgia treasury - about $50 million a year - would be used instead to help needy students escape struggling public schools.

According to information obtained by the Times, that program hasn't always worked out the way it was advertised. Hell, last year a Gwinnett County private school administrator told parents during an informational session that only a small percentage of that cash would actually be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund. The rest would be funneled back to the family who donated the cash.

The Peach State plays a starring role in the piece:

In Georgia, the scholarship program was criticized for widespread abuses in a report last year by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Atlanta that works to improve education.

State Representative Earl Ehrhart, a Republican who helped write the Georgia law, called that report "sophistry" and said that any abuses in the program were anomalies. "I can't tell you about the difference it makes in the lives of these kids," Mr. Ehrhart said.

The report found that from 2007, the year before the program was enacted, through 2009, private school enrollment increased by only one-third of one percent in the metropolitan counties that included most of the private schools in the scholarship program.

The logical conclusion was that most of the students receiving the scholarships had not come from public schools.

"The law was passed under a certain promise," said Steve Suitts, vice president of the foundation. "There is no evidence it's going to those purposes. The kids who were supposed to benefit are not benefiting."

Be sure to check out the part about a Georgia state rep assuring parents to "feel fine" about enrolling their children who are already attending private school into a public school to qualify for the scholarship. And yes, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative think tank that everyone simply loves at the moment, makes a brief appearance. Open up a tab and read it while the boss isn't looking.

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