As the Georgia Senate heads into its last 10 days of session, Sen Eric Johnson is leading the fight for Senate Bill 90, making school vouchers available.
That is drawing dire predictions from local education administrators.
The Savannah Republican said the main purpose of vouchers is to allow students and parents the opportunity to choose their schools.
“Under my voucher plan, Senate Bill 90, parents who want to transfer their child to another public or private school would earn a voucher equivalent to what the state pays to educate a child,” Johnson wrote on his website.
A targeted public school could be in a students’ home district or outside of it. Johson maintains schools keep control over accepting students.
“If a parent believes a private school might be more compatible, a state-funded voucher would be available to utilize at the private school of their choice.”
Dr. Judy Scherer, superintendent for Liberty County Schools, said the idea sounds good on the surface, but said the bill, if passed, would endanger the public school system for many reasons.
Assistant Superintendent Jason Rogers agreed, saying his main objection is the bill would take funding away from the public schools, but doesn’t allow cutting expenditures. He estimates that each student who leaves the system will take with them $5,000 in state funding.
“It takes money away from an already depleted educational system,” Scherer said.
Aside from budget issues, Scherer said the bill is presented as an equal opportunity for all students to choose where they go to school, but isn’t. Scherer said the vouchers will account for $5,000 worth of tuition, but many private school tuitions are well above that amount, leaving parents to come up with the rest.
Scherer also said transportation costs can also become an issue for parents who change schools or systems.
“You’re not offering a choice for all students,” she said. “Public education has been the great equalizer in our society.”
Scherer said she’s worried the bill could potentially wreck the public education system.
SB 90, written by Johnson and a handful of other senators, has been reviewed twice during the session, and Johnson addressed the floor specifically about the bill on Monday. He said another reason he’s pushing for the bill is to encourage public schools to be more competitive.
“I firmly believe, as research has shown in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida, that public schools will improve when they are faced with actual competition,” Johnson wrote, adding that parents may become more involved in their children’s education if they have options.