By Tim Keller
Georgia’s thriving six-year-old Tax Credit Scholarship Program is the most recent educational choice program to be challenged in court. IJ swiftly and successfully intervened in the case to defend the program on behalf of the parents and children whose lives have been improved thanks to the generosity of their fellow Georgians. The Georgia case marks the 20th time IJ has intervened on behalf of parents in a school choice lawsuit and means IJ is actively defending school choice programs in five states.
Enacted in 2008, the program serves over 13,000 Georgia students who rely on the privately funded scholarships generated by donations to the state’s various Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs). SSOs are private, nonprofit charitable organizations that provide private school scholarships to deserving families. Individuals and corporations receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits against their income-tax liability for their donations to SSOs. This year, there were $58 million in tax credits available. The entire amount was claimed in just 22 days by donors who wanted to give parents the ability to choose the best educational option for their kids.
Each of the families IJ represents received a scholarship from Georgia’s largest SSO, the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program. Robin Lamp, IJ’s lead client, is a single parent with two daughters who works three part-time jobs to make ends meet. After watching her daughters’ academic achievement decline in public school, Robin wanted to send her daughters to Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy because of its rigorous academics. Thanks to the scholarship program, she was able to do so.
Ruthie Garcia is also a single mom. Her two youngest children depend on scholarships to attend the Heritage Academy, a private, independent religious school in Augusta educating children from diverse economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Sadly, Ruthie learned firsthand how bad things were in the local public schools in Augusta when she interned at a local public middle school while pursuing her Master of Arts in teaching.
The Quinoneses have three young children and have learned that the most difficult aspect of parenting is finding a good school. The Quinones family has endured some very difficult times financially. Work has been sporadic for Mr. Quinones, and Mrs. Quinones is a student herself. If not for the scholarship program, their children would not be able to attend the Notre Dame Academy, where they are nurtured emotionally and growing academically.
Georgia’s program is making a real difference in the lives of kids. About 50 percent of GOAL’s scholarship recipients belong to families with an adjusted gross income of less than $24,000, and 36 percent of its scholarship recipients are minorities.
Typically, educational choice programs are challenged as soon as they are enacted. But the Georgia lawsuit may be a harbinger of future legal challenges to longstanding programs. In May, plaintiffs in a five-year-old Florida lawsuit filed a motion to amend their complaint challenging the adequacy of Florida’s public school system. They are challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s two decades-old school choice programs, and IJ stands ready to make Florida our 21st lawsuit defending parents and our sixth active school choice case.
Tim Keller is executive director of IJ Arizona.