Arlington, Va.—As Georgia’s House of Representatives considers legislation to provide children with special needs the opportunity to attend the school of their choice—public or private, religious or non-religious—a report released today finds that since 1973 Georgia has spent nearly $6 billion on similar education and child services programs that include both public and private sector options. Such programs have helped 4 million Georgians.
Georgia offers at least 11 scholarship or grant programs related to the care and education of its young people, from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education. The state currently dedicates nearly $1 billion to such aid programs, serving almost 500,000 individuals, according to “Private Choice in Public Programs: How Private Institutions Secure Social Services for Georgians,” released by the Institute for Justice and available at www.IJ.org.
“By comparison to Georgia’s already existing choice-based aid programs, the Special Needs Scholarship program is a modest attempt to empower parents with the most significant tool available to meet the unique needs of their children: the ability to secure the best education possible in the public or private school of their choice,” said Dr. Dick M. Carpenter II, IJ’s director of strategic research and the author of the report.
The report also underscores another vital point about the Special Needs Scholarship program: It is fully consistent with the Georgia Constitution.
“The special needs scholarships and Georgia’s existing school choice programs all offer recipients the free and independent choice of public, private and religious institutions,” said Clark Neily, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, which has successfully defended school choice in courtrooms nationwide. “They are all constitutional because parents and students—not the government—do the choosing from a wide array of both religious and non-religious options.”
State Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah), author of Senate Bill 10, which would provide special needs scholarships, has argued that vouchers have existed in the state for years and shouldn’t be seen as a political liability.
“This study confirms just how acceptable it is to all Georgians that government send money to the private sector to provide basic education programs in both K-12 and higher education,” Johnson said. “It’s been going on for almost 35 years so vouchers are nothing to be afraid of.”
Rep. David Casas (R-Lilburn), a public school teacher who is championing the bill in the Georgia House agreed. He said that the study makes it clear that taxpayers want education choice and have no issue utilizing public funds to effect that choice, even if used to pay for private education programs.
“For years now Georgians have utilized public funds in private ways,” said Casas, “whether it is tuition at Emory University, a pre-k scholarship to a church school or grants to high school students earning college credits at private schools.”
# # #