The Georgia Senate delivered a blow to the school choice movement Tuesday, voting down a bill that would have diverted $6,000 from state money for public schools to allow parents to send their children to private school.
Georgia has limited voucher programs, but Senate Pro Temp Butch Miller’s Senate Bill 601 plan would extend the option to nearly every child currently enrolled in a public school.
Miller’s bill went down 20-29 after members of both parties spoke against the plan. Miller, a Gainesville Republican, is also running for lieutenant governor.
Miller said the $6,000 figure represents the average amount of state money a public school is allocated per enrolled student. He argued that public schools would benefit from the program because they would still receive the local share of dollars for students who used the voucher.
Democrats challenged that math.
“This legislation provides more money via the voucher to private schools than is allotted for children in general education in 9th through 12th grade, isn’t it true?” asked Atlanta Democratic Sen. Elena Parent using parliamentary framing.
“I don’t believe that’s the case, I believe $6,000 is less than that amount,” Miller said.
“Isn’t it true that the general education amount for 9th through 12th graders, when you’re not including special needs or English as a second language, the general amount is $4,159, isn’t it true?”
“I’m sure the senator knows of what she speaks, $6,000 was an average,” Miller said.
“And isn’t it true that that’s a full $1,800 less than we give the public schools for these children, senator?” Parent asked.
“You do very good math, there, senator,” Miller said.
Atlanta Democratic Sen. Nan Orrock blasted the committee process leading up to the vote, noting that members of the public were not able to speak at multiple hearings.
Miller said there was not enough time for public input on the measures.
“You’re saying, if I understand you correctly, that time ran out right to hear from our state school superintendents association, time ran out to hear from our Georgia School Boards Association, time ran out to hear from voices of teachers, time ran out to hear from local school leaders?” Orrock asked. “Wouldn’t it have been appropriate to get the input from that esteemed leadership across our state that represents all superintendents, represents all the school boards? Would they not have something of value to add to a discussion about a bill that’s going to strip money out of our public school system?
“Senator, I appreciate your passion for your position, and thank you very much,” Miller said.
Republican Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan echoed Democrats’ worries, noting that $6,000 per student is more than what most of the counties he represents receive.
“To me, the $6,000 is too much, and it really does hurt my folks like Heard County and I certainly don’t want to do that,” he said. “I do believe in this legislation in principle, and I want to get it to where I can vote for it, but the only way I can do that is if we’re going to make sure that the state is spending the same amount in that voucher as it does if that kid stays in school.”
Brass offered an amendment changing the amount from a fixed $6,000 to the amount the local district receives. The amendment passed without debate, but that was not enough to save the bill.
Brass voted for the amended bill, but other Republicans including Sens. Jason Anavitarte of Dallas, Brandon Beach of Alpharetta, Majority Leader Mike Dugan of Carrollton, Russ Goodman of Cogdell, Tyler Harper of Ocilla and Lindsey Tippins of Marietta, voted against it.
Tuesday is the final day for a bill to pass from one chamber to another, so the vote likely means the end for this year’s voucher push. Lawmakers could revive the effort by attaching the bill’s language to another bill, but even if they did, it could have a hard time passing the House.
Speaker David Ralston announced that a similar bill there will not receive a vote this year after a group of supporters sought to intimidate conservative lawmakers into supporting it by sending out intimidating mailers linking several Republican lawmakers to Stacey Abrams and other political foils on the Democrat’s side of the aisle.
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