Money is a comparatively minor element against the twin engines of success: attitude and effort. Same holds largely true of life after school, by the way.
There is nothing off target with Georgia seeking to have all such educational options available — and home schooling as well — though state money certainly does not assure that any will flourish or produce capable adults.
That said, the current notion that has entered the skulls of many legislators — and quite a few parents as well — that charter schools are some sort of magic potion to be applied liberally is wishful thinking particularly when, as with all things intoxicating, the volume of money like the proof of alcohol are considered the sole gauge of potency.
For example, regardless of more/less intoxicating dollars applied to charter schools the outcomes vary tremendously, with a full third nationally actually producing results below the top half of public schools as gauged by standardized test scores and similar. Attitude, effort and, with charter schools, participation in the form of the parental involvement that is promised more that it is often delivered determine the results. And tossing dollars into the charter-school pot no more assures success there than it does tossing dollars into the taxation pot. And that is particularly true, and made doubly worse, when a tax dodge is the driving force.
JUST FOR comparison and not necessarily as an endorsement, there are currently close to 80,000 students being homeschooled in Georgia or about eight times more than are in the Floyd County School System. Those parents, whose children must pass the same standardized tests as all public/private or charter students and who submit attendance paperwork to the state, plus themselves must have at least a high-school diploma or GED, get zero by the way of either state or local money.
Such students are known to do quite well and, one suspects, dropping out is not permitted. That is one small indicator attitude and effort are worth a whole lot more than money in education although, plainly, most families have neither the time nor resources (or often inclination) to go such a route.
It is against that background that the current pep-rally/protest-movement sides hollering for/against House Bill 140 should be evaluated.
Frankly, adding a proposed $30 million a year to the currently allowable $50 million cap on contributions to the state Tax Credit Scholarship program, as HB 140 would do, is chump change given the scope of educational underfunding in this state. It allows a married couple to take up to $2,500 a year, and corporation up to $100,000, off state taxes owed (income, not property levies that actually provide the local share of public education funding). Sure, that $50-$80 million might be better spent on lots of other things but it hardly does education more damage than already inflicted in recent years by the General Assembly.
Adding $1 billion per year to public education (including the colleges) might bail out the sinking ship with all its reductions in force/school days and keep it afloat a while longer. Adding $2 billion a year might give it the sails to catch a potential economic breeze. Providing a steam engine to move it along regardless is probably what it needs ... about $3 billion more a year would be a good start.
WHICH IS NOT to say money is the only or best solution. Nor that a lot of restructuring and re-aiming of the educational battleship isn’t called for. Frankly, classrooms increasingly appear to need torpedo boats that can move quickly to attack future job targets darting about very rapidly.
Georgia already spends approximately $18 billion a year in state/local money on elementary/secondary public education with the state providing about 60 percent. It is also the single largest piece of the state’s $19.3 billion annual budget as roughly 60 percent goes for education covering pre-K through college. “Everything else” — public safety/prisons, roads, health care, parks and so forth — basically gets what is left over.
At least the $30 million proposed by HB 140 stays inside that overall educational wrapper and has less true sting than a mosquito bite. It is the crocodile chomps of years past that have done the real damage.
That doesn’t mean mosquito stings cannot cause dangerous diseases, in this case a growing secrecy about the actual use and possible misuse of state taxpayer dollars.
The real problem with the state tax-credit scholarship, besides little evidence of it doing much positive as far as improving actual learning is concerned, is that it is ripe for fraud and misuse. Lots of states do this same thing but only Georgia actually, by law, seals in secrecy who gets the money and what it is going for without any chance for taxpayer oversight. In fact, the state made it a crime to tell — apparently even to reveal who the recipients are.
Both the Atlanta newspaper and the New York Times have done investigative reports waving the bloody red flag about tax diversion murder being committed in the name of these “scholarships” in Georgia.
FOR EXAMPLE, the Times reported last May: “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 intent was that money otherwise due to the Georgia treasury would be used instead to help needy students escape struggling public schools.
“That was the idea, at least. But parents meeting at Gwinnett Christian Academy got a completely different story last year. ‘A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,’ Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. ‘The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.’
“A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school. ‘If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,’ added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.”
The Times then went on to point what is apparently a deliberate wording quirk in the authorizing legislation:
“I recently contacted you about having some trouble enrolling/registering my child in a public school while he is going to a private school,” one parent wrote to a scholarship organization in an e-mail obtained by The Times. “A principal told us he cannot attend two schools at the same time, which is simply not true because public and private schools have nothing to do with each other. But we need to have my child enrolled in a public school in order to qualify for the student scholarship program.”
“The idea, based on a technical interpretation of the word ‘enroll,’ was promoted by State Rep. David Casas, a Republican and co-sponsor of the scholarship legislation. In meetings with parents, he had explained that the bill’s wording was intentional—using the word ‘enrolled’ rather than ‘attending’ to enable the scholarships’ use by students already in private schools.”
AND THAT IS but part of the failings which lead to a specific opportunity to dodge taxes for some but plainly not others. How many out there, even if knowing they will get it all back on their tax refund, can actually write a check donating $2,500 to anything, much less year after year after year? Well, according to one of the few numbers known, about 16,000 individuals so far in Georgia but fewer than 100 corporations, which are also eligible.
There are all sorts of legal challenges already launched about this, but the wheels of justice move slowly and those of common sense in the legislature often not at all. It was even recently revealed that some scholarship donations leading to tax write-offs were made to religious schools who denied admission to gay students ... and who knows what others for different reasons?
Unless all of this is repaired — the General Assembly does currently claim to be in love with ethics and truth-telling about gifts received, does it not? — HB 140 should receive absolutely no consideration whatsoever. One flimflam does not deserve another.