By Cynthia McCabe
In a resounding win for public school students in Georgia, the state Senate last week tabled consideration of a bill that would have expanded the state’s voucher program at a time when the state could least afford it.
Just as it appeared poised for passage, lawmakers dropped Senate Bill 87, which would have provided taxpayer-funded payments to private schools not subject to state accountability measures. That was due in part to the effective work of Georgia educators and their supporters, who argued that the bill would take money from public schools that desperately need it.
Lawmakers, “took the time to listen and at least for now have decided that vouchers are not the direction Georgia needs to follow,” Georgia Association of Educators President Calvine Rollins said. “We agree with the Georgia School Boards Association in that the debate should center on how to help our students excel in the classroom. We should be working together and directing resources toward developing solutions to help those children who very much need help, no matter how small or large the percentage within a school.”
Throughout the legislative process, opponents of the bill pointed out that vouchers offered nothing to address the underlying problems like poverty that students who use them face. Instead of vouchers, which have no track record of improving student learning, opponents argued the state should use the money to replicate magnet and theme schools, enhance professional development opportunities, boost parent involvement and create smaller class sizes and schools.
They also pointed out that vouchers were deemed unconstitutional in Florida and when voters were given a choice about vouchers in five states, they overwhelmingly rejected them.
And Georgia Association of Educators members made more than 900 calls to their representatives to argue against the program’s expansion, and sent hundreds of emails.
One of those activists, retired member Elizabeth Filliat, was motivated by her decades of experience working with the same students that voucher advocates purported to be helping. Not so, said Filliat, who spent recent weeks lobbying her state legislators to let them know that the legislation before them would not help the 92 percent of students in Georgia who attend public schools.
“Even with vouchers, the poorer students cannot afford private schools,” says Filliat. “Taking public money and giving that money to private schools, through vouchers, will create another class stratification in schools, but this time by wealth and by class status.”