Bill would offer choice of school

ATLANTA --- Georgia public school students would be allowed to transfer to any private or public school in the state under a proposal by state Sen. Eric Johnson.

 

Mr. Johnson, a staunch supporter of school vouchers, outlined details Friday of legislation that would create the state's first universal school choice program. The bill has not been filed.

Unlike the existing voucher program for special needs students, the universal vouchers would allow any student to transfer to any school, the Savannah Republican said at the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education Media Symposium.

"I anticipate having a vigorous debate" in the Legislature, he said. "That's not a bad thing."

He also "fully expects legal challenges," but he said the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of school vouchers.

Mr. Johnson, the Senate's president pro tem, said the program is as much about improving public education as it is increasing options for parents.

State funding would follow the student, though local funding would not, Mr. Johnson said. The state would decrease its per-pupil funding for the school system losing the student and provide more funding to the new school system. As with the Special Needs Scholarship Program, schools must sign up to receive students, Mr. Johnson said. Schools won't be required to accept transfers.

Each school's council will determine what students it accepts based on its capacity, the student's grades or other criteria, Mr. Johnson said.

The proposal would require parents to provide transportation to the new school, he said.

"The notion of giving parents and students options is attractive in general," said Andrew Broy, Georgia's associate superintendent. "We've got to think about how we ensure these programs are accountable because right now we have no real way to measure." The problem with the state's existing voucher program is that there is little accountability, Mr. Broy said. Two considerations must be given to any new program: ensuring it is available to all students and holding the receiving school accountable for student achievement and properly using public funds, he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.