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DAVIES: Georgia education credit law deserves support

Guest commentary

Dave Davies

Dave Davies

Creede Hinshaw’s criticism of Georgia’s Education Expense Credit law (“Tax dollars going to support private schools — Aug. 16, The Albany Herald) paints with a broad brush and tars well-run Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) and private schools that educate thousands of students statewide. The column also includes some claims that are simply untrue.

House Bill 283, passed this year, did exactly the opposite of what Rev. Hinshaw alleges. Rather than relaxing this program, HB 283 enacts considerable safeguards and requires transparency of SSOs. Annual audits are required by law and are submitted to the Department of Revenue. SSOs must obligate all of the funds collected in a year to student recipients. SSOs’ administrative fees are capped, thereby ensuring that the vast majority of dollars contributed flow to the students.

As the administrator of an independent school affiliated with the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, I cannot speak about each of the 33 SSOs statewide. However, GOAL, one of the largest SSOs, has been a model of responsibility, transparency and ethics, and GOAL has lobbied effectively to ensure that all SSOs operate above board. GOAL does require that families demonstrate financial need in order to be considered for scholarships.

Despite Rev. Hinshaw’s assertion that “claims of savings (of State money) are not supportable by the data,” here are some facts. Over the first five years of the program, the average GOAL grant was $3,820. According to the GA DOE’s most recent statistics, the State spends over $7,000 per student statewide. In Dougherty County, the state per pupil contribution is $4,700. In either case, the average GOAL grant is at least $900 and upwards of $3,000 less than the State’s allotment. This is a real savings to the State budget.

Further, elimination of this program would drive thousands of students back into already overcrowded public schools with classes already exceeding 30 students and insufficient textbooks and other materials.

Since GOAL’s inception, nearly 9,000 scholarships have been awarded. More than half of those went to families with annual incomes below $20,000. Rev. Hinshaw claims that the evidence that poorer families would be the main beneficiaries is “shaky” and “depends on some manipulation of the data.” The 2012 Annual Report of GOAL is rock solid on this point.

It is ironic to see a pastor criticize the use of tax funds to support a non-profit when State funds (in the manner of charitable deductions) help to support churches “of various theologies and teachings” including his own.

The Georgia Education Expense Credit law is a model for many programs springing up across the country that give taxpayers some say over how their tax dollars are spent while ensuring that thousands of children are educated in schools in which their parents have the greatest confidence. It deserves broad public support, not unfounded criticism.

Dave Davies is headmaster of Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany.