Monday, May 16, 2011

AFC Praises Improvements to Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Federation for Children today (May 13) praised its Georgia state allies, Governor Nathan Deal, and state legislators for the passage of revisions to a Georgia school choice program that will raise the cap on the number of eligible students, better secure their places in the program once admitted, and significantly increase the program's transparency and accountability.

Gov. Deal yesterday signed into law House Bill 325, which was passed with bipartisan support by state legislators late last month thanks in large part to the grassroots efforts of Center for Educated Georgia and the strong leadership from bill sponsors Sen. Chip Rogers, Rep. David Casas, Rep. Earl Ehrhart, and Rep. Delvis Dutton.

The bill strengthens and clarifies key provisions of the Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program, including the stipulation that students who enter the program can continue receiving scholarships until their high school graduation. The plan also calls for the program to expand its eligibility by eliminating the requirement that first-grade participants attend a public school the year prior to entering the scholarship program.

Other provisions include an increase in the amount of time donors have to make contributions, the ability for donors to contribute online, and a change in how individual scholarship amounts will be capped. Scholarship caps will now be based on the average per-student funding for public education in the state, the result of which will ensure that the state does not incur additional costs as a result of the program.

"This is an important step in ensuring that Georgia families are getting the access to educational options they deserve," said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children. "We applaud state legislators and Governor Deal for helping make a great program that helps kids even better. These changes will benefit not only students and their families, but also the taxpayers of Georgia, too."

The new eligibility requirements and scholarship amounts are coupled with more stringent accountability standards for the Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs)—the organizations to which donors contribute and that ultimately grant scholarships. SSOs must now maintain an independent board of directors with at least three members, in addition to the already existing requirements that they submit to annual audits and independent reviews of all financial statements.

House Bill 325 also gives authority to the state Department of Revenue to take punitive action against any SSO not in compliance with the law.

Enacted in 2008, the Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program currently serves over 6,000 students across the state, having more than doubled its enrollment from just a year ago. One of two school choice programs in the state, Georgia has nearly 9,000 students who are currently benefitting from school choice.

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