Everyone agrees that a child’s future should not be determined by his or her ZIP code.
But the sad reality is that too often Georgia’s education system traps the least fortunate students in failing schools. Parents with the means to live near a good public school or to send their children to a private school can ensure their children receive a quality education. Meanwhile, financially strained families often have no choice but to send their children to underperforming public schools, where they fall behind their more fortunate peers.
This legislative session, state lawmakers have a chance to reform this broken system and ensure that all Georgia students, regardless of ZIP code or income status, have access to a quality education.
There is an array of educational choice programs that lawmakers could adopt, but they should start by enacting Education Freedom Accounts. This program would vastly expand educational opportunity in Georgia without charging taxpayers a cent more.
Education Freedom Accounts give parents access to the education program that best fits their child’s needs, whether that’s online courses, tutoring services, private school, or home schooling. Parents receive a debit card with a portion of the funds the state allocates to each child for education, which they can use on approved educational expenses. That way, a child’s education dollars travel with them, and they have options that help them develop their individual talents and interests.
Other states have already successfully implemented similar programs. Arizona pioneered its program in 2011, and since then Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee have followed suit. As a result, thousands of students in failing schools or with special needs have found educational programs that work for them.
Georgia needs this kind of bold reform. Otherwise, our public schools might continue to leave more children behind. State spending on education has more than doubled since the early ’70s, but Georgia’s SAT scores have hardly budged. Meanwhile, the state’s high school graduation rates are regularly among the lowest in the nation.
Low-income minority students suffer the most from under-performing schools. In Atlanta, just 14 percent of black students are enrolled in top-scoring schools in math or reading, compared to about 90 percent of white students.
As it is now, Georgians pay dearly to support this failed system. Georgia’s total education spending per student exceeds $10,000 each year – more than all but one of the state’s neighbors.
For that investment, our students deserve better. An Education Freedom Accounts program would return education decisions to parents – regardless of their economic status – opening more opportunities to the students who need them most. And the good news is it could even save taxpayers money.
According to one analysis, Arizona saves over $12 million for every 5,000 students enrolled in its program. If Georgia adopted a similar model, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation estimates that the state would save $430 for each student who opted for an Education Freedom Account.
And the best part is, education choice programs have proven to boost educational outcomes for all students – including those in traditional public schools. Study after study shows that when students are given greater choice in education, public schools improve because of the increased competition.
For decades, Georgia’s public education system has lagged behind the rest of the nation while consuming a growing share of taxpayer dollars. It is time for state leaders to bring greater choice and opportunity to public education. Education Freedom Accounts are one powerful way to give every child access to the education they need to succeed in life, no matter what neighborhood they live in.
That’s a win for all Georgians.
(The writer is the Georgia state director of Americans for Prosperity.)