Victory for School Choice in Georgia

Institute for Justice · June 26, 2017

Atlanta—In a major victory for students and parents in the Peach State, the Georgia Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing a frivolous constitutional challenge to Georgia’s thriving tax credit scholarship program. The Court ruled that the taxpayers who filed the lawsuit are not harmed by the program because it is funded by charitable donations, not from the state treasury, and therefore they do not have legal standing to maintain their lawsuit. The Institute for Justice intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of four Georgia families who rely on the program to send their children to the schools of their choice.

“Georgia’s scholarship program is one of the largest school choice programs in the nation, empowering thousands of parents each year to choose the schools that are best-suited to meet their children’s unique learning needs,” remarked Tim Keller, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “This program has been helping families for almost ten years and this ruling helps ensure it will continue to help numerous other families for many years to come.”

Since its enactment in 2008, Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program has grown rapidly and is currently the fourth largest school choice program in the country. It is entirely funded by voluntary donations, which are offset by a dollar-for-dollar tax credit—up to $1,000 for individuals, $2,500 for families, and $10,000 for businesses. Tax-credit-eligible donations are capped at $58 million annually and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Georgians are so eager to fund the program that the tax credits disappear before the end of January.

“I am thrilled that my daughter, like many other students, now has complete peace of mind that her scholarship is secure and that she will be able to remain at the school she loves,” said IJ client Robin Lamp, one of six parents whom IJ represented in defense of the scholarship program.

The Court’s ruling emphasized that the scholarship program is funded entirely by voluntary donations from individuals and businesses, which are eager to participate in a program that assists over 13,000 students each year in succeeding at the school that best fits them.

“Individuals and corporations choose the SSOs [Student Scholarship Organizations] to which they wish to direct contributions; these private SSOs select the student recipients of the scholarships they award; and the students and their parents decide whether to use their scholarships at religious or other private schools. The State controls none of these decisions. Nor does it control the contributed funds or the educational entities that ultimately receive the funds,” wrote Justice Robert Benham for the unanimous court.

“Today’s victory has secured Georgia parents’ right to continue choosing the best education for their children,” stated IJ Attorney Erica Smith. “This Court correctly recognized that government should promote educational opportunity and choice, not limit it as the plaintiffs proposed.”

IJ has successfully defended numerous school choice programs, including twice in the U.S. Supreme Court and most recently in Montana, where a district court ruled that the Montana Department of Revenue could not prevent families from receiving private tax credit scholarships and using them toward schools of their choice—including religious schools. The Montana decision is expected to be appealed to the state supreme court. IJ currently has two other school choice cases pending in Colorado and Florida.

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