Kyle Wingfield; Offer education choices or do nothing? |

Georgian lawmakers are reconsidering the law to give more education opportunities to families. The snag this year is that there are two such bills that seem to be struggling with proposals trying to win over lawmakers.

Which is ridiculous, because both bills have the same author.

Wes Cantrell’s MP, R-Woodstock, unveiled last month the Georgia Freedom of Education Act with a bipartisan list of co-authors.

But he also remains in favor of his proposal from last year, the Georgia Scholarship Act, which the House Education Committee approved this month.

Cantrell does not publicly prefer any of the bills over the other. He just wants to help many families who need another option for their children but can’t afford it. Given the many current controversies in education, he said options are needed now more than ever.

“There are a lot of pressing issues in education now, but choosing a school will effectively address each and every one of those challenges that arise in the future,” Cantrell told me. .

“If we had a choice of school, parents could deal with either of them or anything else in the future.”

However, many observers question: which bill is better?

As a person who has been following this issue for over a decade, I think this is not the most important issue.

The most important question is how much better students will be with any proposal than with the status quo “do nothing”.

Both bills, despite their different names, will create accounts for Promise scholarships, for which the state will contribute about $ 6,000 a year to students.

Do nothing and the amount is zero.

The most significant difference between the bills concerns who is entitled. Both will be open to public school students only. The Georgia Scholarship Act will have no other student qualifications, making it accessible to anyone studying in public schools. The Freedom of Education Act in Georgia provides other qualifications for students related to family income, the performance of their public school, enrollment in a foster or military family, or an individual education program (IEP) or one of 21 diagnosed diseases such as autism.

But in terms of program availability the difference from these additional qualifications may be less than you think. It is estimated that 70% of Georgian students qualify with an income test (this is the same income limit as for Obamacare health insurance subsidies). About 10% of Georgian students attend a school that meets the qualifications due to poor performance. Hundreds of thousands of students have an IEP and / or one of the relevant conditions. There are thousands of children in the foster family, not counting the adopted ones, and tens of thousands in military families. Even given the overlap between some of these groups, it is reasonable to think that at least 80% of students will qualify.

Do you know how much qualifies when there is no program? None.

This does not mean that all qualifying participants will receive a Promise Scholarship account under any of the plans. The Freedom of Education Act in Georgia is limited to 0.25% of first-year students (about 4,350) and will grow to 2.5% annually. The Georgia Scholarship Act has no restrictions, but legislative provision will be required; realistically, the program could count on getting funding for about the same number of students.

Again, if none of the bills are passed, no student will have access to the choice.

Both programs will cover the same range of services for private schools and homeschooling. Both will limit costs only to approved uses and suppliers. Both would allow unused funds to be listed, including for use in Georgia College after high school.

Both have the same requirements for private schools and students.

Do nothing and nothing happens.

Choosing the right proposal is an important task for legislators. But any of them will be the clear winner if nothing is done.

Dalton-born Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (www.georgiapolicy.org).

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