The push is on to persuade Georgia businesses and residents to direct part of their state taxes to nonprofit organizations that will fund private school scholarships.
Through the new Student Scholarship Tax Credit Program, created by state House Bill 1133 this past legislative session, as much as $50 million can be given to charitable groups approved to award the scholarships.
Unlike the state's special education voucher program, there are no restrictions on who can receive the scholarships.
It's up to each organization to set its rules and criteria.
So far, the Georgia Department of Education has approved two organizations to give out the scholarships, including Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program Inc. Three organizations are pending approval as they obtain nonprofit status.
"Really, it's a matter of educational justice," Georgia GOAL Director and founder Jim Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly said he supports public schools but that parents should be able to send their children where they want and shouldn't be limited by the amount of money they have.
He has already contacted 750 accounting firms, asking them to let their clients know about the tax credit program, in the hope of receiving enough money to begin awarding scholarships for the new school year.
He would like to give away 100 scholarships.
Though his program is based in Atlanta, the scholarship is open to any student in Georgia, Mr. Kelly said. His program funds scholarships for families with a maximum household income of $85,000.
The scholarships given out by Georgia GOAL will be as much as 85 percent of tuition or $10,000, whichever is less.
The state Department of Education is maintaining a list of approved scholarship providers and participating private schools. The lists can be found on its Web site, www.gadoe.org, under the tax credit link under "special programs."
The site should answer most of the questions parents have, spokesman Dana Tofig said. It contains an overview of the program and details about how to contribute.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO JOIN IN
TO APPLY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP:
Contact the scholarship organization. The list of organizations and their contact information can be found at www.gadoe.org.
TO DONATE TO THE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM:
Download Form IT-QEE-TP1 from the Georgia Department of Revenue's Web site, www.dor.ga.gov. Contact Beverly Bennett with the department at (404) 417-2422 if you have more questions.
Sources: Georgia Department of Education; Georgia Department of Revenue