Late last week, a Fulton County Superior Court judge dismissed all constitutional aspects of the legal challenge to Georgia’s popular tax credit scholarship program. The program allows individuals and corporations to claim a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for their voluntary contributions to private charities, which in turn use the donated funds to provide scholarships for low-income children to attend the private school of their parents’ choice.
“The ruling is a huge victory for thousands of families all across the State of Georgia,” declared Tim Keller, the Institute for Justice’s lead counsel representing four families who intervened in the lawsuit to defend the scholarship program. “The parents and students relying on the scholarship program can breathe a sigh of relief. The constitutional cloud hanging over the program has been lifted.”
Judge Kimberly M. Esmond Adams ruled that the plaintiffs in the case, all taxpayers, do not have “standing” to challenge the scholarship tax credit program because it is funded with private, rather than public funds. Absent the use of public revenue to fund the program, the plaintiff-taxpayers could not demonstrate that they suffered any harm as a result of the program.
“It is difficult to imagine how a program that allows parents to choose the best educational setting for their child could harm anyone,” explained Erica Smith, an Institute for Justice staff attorney also representing parents and children in defense of the challenged program. “In dismissing the constitutional claims in this lawsuit Judge Adams followed the lead of many other courts that have considered similar claims, including the U.S. Supreme Court and several state supreme courts. In fact, the courts have upheld every tax credit scholarship program that has been challenged.”
The scholarship program has been tremendously successful in helping low-income families exercise educational choice for their children. Through 2014, the Georgia GOAL Foundation, a Student Scholarship Organization that solicits contributions from individuals and corporations to fund student scholarships, has awarded scholarships to 9,048 students.
The average value of the scholarship awarded to each student has been $3,721. In 2014, the average household income of scholarship recipient families was $26,738 and since GOAL’s inception 36% of its scholarships are awarded to minority recipients.
The Institute for Justice represented four families, including Robin Lamp, a single mom whose youngest daughter relies on a scholarship from the Georgia GOAL Foundation to attend a private school. Robin’s oldest daughter recently graduated from the same private school thanks to a GOAL scholarship and is now attending college.
Today’s ruling, however, may not be the last word. The Plaintiffs are permitted to appeal the ruling. The Institute for Justice and their clients now call on the Plaintiffs to drop this case. If the Plaintiffs do appeal, however, the parents represented by the Institute for Justice will continue to defend the program in Georgia’s courts of appeal.