School-choice successes grow

Georgia approves private-school scholarships funded with tax credits

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law last week a universal school-choice program that uses corporate and individual tax credits to create $50 million in scholarships to private schools.

The law is the latest advance in the school-choice movement, which has seen programs approved in a growing number of states. In California, a record five bills were introduced this year in the Legislature to make it easier for parents to switch their children from public to private schools, though none has passed.

The Georgia scholarship program allows corporations to receive a 100 percent tax credit, up to 75 percent of their total state tax liability, for donations to 501(c)(3), nonprofit charitable Student Scholarship Organizations that award private-school scholarships. Individuals can also donate up to $1,000 ($2,500 for married couples) to SSOs and receive a 100 percent credit against their state income taxes. An estimated 10,000 Georgia schoolchildren will benefit.

Lydia Glaize, a Fairburn, Ga., parent who supported the legislation, said, “Children who will receive these scholarships will translate into less kids into juvenile detention, more who will graduate and more who will wind up in the labor force. That’s a better standard of living for the entire Georgia community.”

There are now 23 parental choice programs in 15 states, including Washington, D.C. The number of state legislatures passing parental-choice legislation has also nearly tripled in the past five years, from six in 2003 to 16 so far this legislative session. How about California?

Thirty years ago the Golden State was an undisputed national education leader. Today, California students rank 48th in reading and math achievement. Students in West Virginia, a state long associated with Appalachian poverty, outscored California students on three of the four 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments.

A decade ago, the Golden State and Sunshine State chose radically different education reform paths. California ratcheted up its rate of school spending, while Florida maintained steady annual increases. Florida also implemented tax-credit and publicly funded scholarships so parents of children with disabilities and students trapped in failing schools could enroll their kids in better schools. Thanks to competition for students and their education dollars, overall school quality has improved in Florida.

Currently, low-income Hispanic students in Florida outperform average California students on the fourth-grade NAEP reading assessment, conducted in English. This despite the fact that California’s per-pupil funding is $2,300 more than Florida’s, and California median household income is nearly $12,000 higher.

Such comparisons make it difficult to defend California’s public-schooling near-monopoly, especially since not one doomsday scenario predicted by status-quo apologists has ever materialized in any state with parental-choice programs. Education monopolists are still repeating their tired myths, but fewer California lawmakers are buying them.

Thanks to a handful of California Assembly members, a record-setting five parental-choice bills were introduced this legislative session. This is the first time in five years that any such legislation has been introduced in Sacramento, and California leads the nation with five-parental choice bills introduced this year, only recently joined by Virginia.

The proposed measures would free California children from unsafe schools (Assembly Bill 2361, authored by Rick Keene, R-Chico) and failing schools (AB2739, Alan Nakanishi, R-Lodi, and AB2561, Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks). Other proposed laws would also provide parents of private school students with tax credits (AB2605, Nakanishi), and allow parents of special-needs children to choose another school (AB2290, John J. Benoit, R-Riverside) without having to hire an attorney or jump through protracted bureaucratic hoops.

Every state with parental choice had to fight long and hard to win. Though four of the five California bills thus far have been voted down or suspended in committee, their very introduction marks a decisive turning point.

Elected officials are now fighting back against powerful opponents of parental choice in education. If lawmakers keep up the fight, schoolchildren will benefit, and California may yet restore its status as a national leader.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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