Parents and lawmakers push for new school choice legislation

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 6:31 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A new school voucher program is gaining momentum at the state capitol.

At a press conference on Thursday, Democrat Rep. Mesha Mainor, Republican Rep. Rey Martinez, and Republican Rep. Lauren Daniel announced their support of a bill that would allow for school choice for students in failing schools.

Senate Bill 233 failed to make it through the Georgia Assembly’s last legislative session but remains alive for the next session in January.

Parents said that large class sizes and not enough resources are impacting their child’s test scores. state lawmakers are looking for ways to use state and federal dollars to allow students in failing schools to apply to private schools.

Audrey Leftwitch is a 10th grader with Dyslexia, a learning disorder that can make it harder for her to read and spell.

She was at the press conference with her mother Kimberly Leftwich to support the bill. Audrey received a voucher for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship in Georgia. Roughly $6,000 a year pays a third of her private school tuition at North Cobb Christian School.

“I’m getting the help I need so I am able to succeed,” said Audrey.

Mesha Mainor advocated for legislation that would extend “parent choice” to all Georgia families with students in the bottom 25% of schools. This bill did not pass in the last legislative session, but Mainor is hoping more Democrats will get on board.

“The Democrats need to change their values when it comes to education, I don’t need to change my party,” said Rep. Mainor.

“This is not private versus public schools, it’s not, it’s about the parents,” said Rep. Martinez.

If passed, it would cost the state and federal governments would be on the hook for the payouts.

Lisa Morgan with the Georgia Educators Association said the bill sends the wrong message. Last year’s report from the Georgia Department of Education shows 101 counties don’t have private schools that qualify for the vouchers and another 28 only have one in the whole county.

“Rather than deal with the issues that impact all students, we would allow a few students to take public funds to an unaccountable private school. This is offering choices to the private schools and the affluent parents who can already afford private school,” said Morgan.

In order for public schools to qualify for funding, they have to have a minimum of 21 kids per class.

If a student leaves for the voucher program, withdraws from a course, dropping the school below the threshold, that school may have to cut courses or find another way to fund the course.